Newly elected Gov. Tate Reeves made his first inaugural address last week, promising to focus on deregulation and free markets to spur growth.
He acknowledged the state’s responsibility to take care of its foster children and ensure state prisoners are protected from harm. He touted the state’s progress in fourth-grade test scores and promised to raise teachers’ salaries.
Reeves promised to represent all Mississippians and praised our state for its diversity, determination, hard work, spirit, beauty and religious faith. It was a good, uplifting speech, touching on all the right themes.
Reeves said, “We worked hard over the last decade to recover from a brutal recession, and do the hard, necessary work of rebuilding. We have been forced to make many hard choices in the budget and prioritized the fiscal stability of the state. It’s a position that so many families and businesses know all too well. We often looked at our budgets and longed to do more. Today, we finally can.
“Thanks to cost-saving measures and tax cuts that have spurred our economy, we have more money coming in than ever before. We must never forget that our focus on protecting that taxpayers is what got us to this financial position. As we begin to allocate this new revenue, I can think of no one more deserving, and no task more essential, than increasing the pay of our teachers.”
Reading the full text of Reeves’ speech, and reading between the lines, it looks like Reeves may be ready to end the non-stop budget cutting and spend some money. That’s probably a good thing. Our schools, parks, prisons, childcare services and mental health system all need a lot of work.
Reeves started his political career just as the Democratic state leadership was losing power. At that time, our state budget had escalated rapidly.
From 2000 to 2010, Mississippi gross domestic product increased 45 percent while total state spending, fueled by federal dollars, increased a whopping 99 percent. So total state spending increased twice as much as state GDP.
Since the Republicans took power in Mississippi, the exact opposite has happened. From 2010 to 2020, Mississippi GDP has increased 22 percent while total state spending increased 7 percent. So in the past decade, state spending increased one-third as much as state GDP.
Ideally, total state spending should more or less track state GDP growth. What we’re seeing is that under Democratic party rule, the state spent too much. And now under Republican rule, the state is spending too little.
It is interesting to note that state GDP growth was double when the Democrats ruled. No doubt there are many complex factors involved, not the least of which was the huge influx of federal tax dollars from 2000 to 2010, especially after Hurricane Katrina. That being said, the facts show the Mississippi economy grew twice as fast when the Democrats were in power.
The Republican Party’s vision of free markets and reduced red tape is the key to long-range growth for Mississippi. But the state’s leadership should not overshoot the mark and ignore fundamental infrastructure that, while costing tax dollars, is also important to growth. We need good schools, well-maintained roads and a criminal justice system, especially prisons, free from gangs and corruption.
For our spiritual well being, Mississippians need to be part of a state that takes care of widows and orphans both through our churches and non-profits and properly run state programs.
And if being part of the richest nation in the world has the advantage of a poor state being the recipient of federal dollars, we don’t need to be looking any gift horses in the mouth.