By Bill Crawford
It’s bunny season … with enough candy, egg hunts, candy, frilly dresses, and candy to make children and adults unduly hoppity and hippity.
Do you reckon our over-commercialized fascination with goodies from the Easter Bunny (and Santa Claus) is tied to our growing expectation of goodies from government?
Observe Mississippi government. Legislators hand out goodies through the budget, bond, and appropriations processes. If they hand out too many, they make the governor take them back.
You get the picture. On one side is the devil governor taking away goodies. On the other are Easter Bunny legislators hopping every which way to hand out goodies even in the worst of times.
Easter is not about goodies. Neither is government. Their province, really, is the future of souls and people, respectively. And, the paths to those futures are not golden-egg-laden bunny trails. They twist and turn with hellish obstructions.
Never more true for state government than now.
Hark back to 1999. That was an election year when legislators gave out big pay raises, expanded Medicaid, began adding costly benefits to the state retirement system, and acted, well, like the Easter Bunny giving out goodies.
Ironically, that’s also the year the $4.1 billion “inviolate” tobacco trust fund was created.
Hippity hoppity to the present. The oft violated trust fund is about empty. Medicaid is in the red. The budget is in the toilet. And, we just learned, state retirement is at risk.
“From 1999 to 2002, Mississippi increased its pension benefits substantially without putting in place a funding mechanism,” reported Pew Charitable Trusts. Resulting unfunded pension liabilities pose “serious concerns.”
“A lot of people were riding that wave of euphoria from investment returns,” explained Pat Robertson, director of the Mississippi Public Employee Retirement System.
Sounds like a lot of folks besides Alice followed the White Rabbit down the hole to Wonderland. But even there, good times did not forever beget good times.
Perhaps it’s time to hop off the bunny trails and climb up from Wonderland.
Besides keeping trusts inviolate and maintaining a stronger rainy day fund, legislators should give, with reasonable parameters, authority to agencies to make changes as tough times loom, not after,…especially those managing long-term liabilities like retirement and Medicaid. (Psst, other states do.)
To this point, they have rejected Gov. Haley Barbour’s requests to do that.
Then again, why should we expect our legislators to act prudently over time when we, Wall Street banks, our federal government, and others do not?
Let’s all join together in a rousing rendition of “Here Comes Peter Cottontail,” then pray for our legislators and our state for the rest of this Easter season.
Bill Crawford is a former legislator from Meridian. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to him at 1124 Windmill Drive, Meridian, MS 39305.