EDITORIAL: Highways woe

Barring the unexpected, the Transportation Commission will issue notice today that all construction contracts will terminate at midnight June 30 because Mississippi won’t have a budget by July 1 – and the commission no authority to sign checks for work to be let or under way.
The MDOT notice, which would cancel automatically if a budget is adopted, is only the latest in a series of dire consequences anticipated if the Legislature and Gov. Barbour continue on a collision course threatening budget failure.
Negotiators from the House and Senate – with Gov. Barbour’s virtual presence and potential veto hanging over the discussions – have inched closer on many issues, but they remain separated on a method to adequately finance Medicaid, the health care insurance program for the poor and children.
Barbour wants a $90 million tax on hospitals. The House is opposed, but it has offered a $57 million hospital tax. The Senate leadership hasn’t budged in a meaningful way, following the governor’s lead, and 600,000 Medicaid clients hang at the mercy of insensitive, out-of-touch lawmakers and a bullheaded governor.
The loss of Medicaid would place thousands of people at serious risk of eroding health, even death, because no funds would be available to pay for care and prescriptions. Hospitals and some doctors would not deny care, but the costs would become a charitable write-off – an unreimbursed loss that is both economically harmful and politically absurd.
Also at risk are jobs and paychecks for state employees from bottom to top, loss of some teachers who, without contracts, already are leaving some districts for more certain employment, and a staggering range of state services affecting Mississippians from cradle to grave.
Northern District Highway Commissioner Bill Minor, D-Holly Springs, said about $500 million in road projects under way or ready for letting will be affected, with thousands of jobs terminated.
In addition, Minor said law requires lengthy and potentially expensive rebidding of contracts, once terminated. District Engineer Bill Jamison of Tupelo said rebids could add hundreds of millions in increased costs statewide, plus no additional federal investment.
The impact of choked-off highway projects could be felt on a long-awaited Northeast Mississippi project: completion of Highway 6 from Tupelo to Pontotoc. Work had been scheduled to start within days on the new road in southwest Tupelo.
The highway is four-laned from Batesville to east of Pontotoc, a sore issue with many residents who would regularly use a new road linking Tupelo and Pontotoc.
Most citizens are watching their elected officials with a critical eye.

NEMS Daily Journal

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