Mississippi Editorial Roundup

A collection of editorial comment from around Mississippi.

***

The Greenwood Commonwealth, on “Car tag prices hit hardest at the poor.”

Mississippi motorists are in for some sticker shock this summer if lawmakers fail to come up with a solution to the shortfall in the 15-year-old state fund that’s designed to hold down the cost of car tags.

That fund, like a lot of things in this global recession, is ailing due to the steep downturn in auto sales. It gets its money from the sales tax on car purchases. Fewer car purchases, fewer dollars for the fund.

Money from the fund is used to reimburse counties for what they otherwise would charge motorists to purchase or renew car tags. The state, through February, was $7.2 million behind in its payments to the counties, and the gap is expected to worsen before it gets better.

Until car sales turn around, one stopgap measure being discussed is using proceeds from a hike in the state’s tax on cigarettes. Lawmakers, who are on recess until May or June, have been unable to compromise so far on how large the tax hike should be.

If they don’t come to terms, counties will have to do something to make up the difference. The most likely option is to up the cost of car tags. The Clarion-Ledger ran the numbers on a possible scenario. If the reimbursements from the state were cut in half, the cost of a car tag on a $20,000 automobile would jump about $120.

That would be unwelcome news anywhere, but particularly in a county such as Leflore, which already has some of the highest car tag costs in the state.

Car tags have been a sensitive point for decades in Mississippi because they are so out of proportion to what most other states charge. In Mississippi, the cost of a tag — depending on where you live, the type of vehicle and its age — can run from several hundred dollars to more than a thousand. In neighboring states, car tags cost on average less than $50 a year.

Why the discrepancy? It goes back to an age-old tax policy decision Mississippi made that is designed really to punish the poor. Since the poor don’t make enough to pay income taxes and they don’t usually own the homes in which they live, policy makers decided to hit them where they were most vulnerable. On local taxes, that meant shifting the property-tax burden from homes and businesses to autos. On state taxes, the same was done by going light on income taxes but heavy on sales taxes.

As a result, those at the lower-end of the income ladder in Mississippi have to fork out a higher percentage of their earnings in state and local taxes than those at the upper end.

No one relishes the thought of car tags going up. But if anyone should be complaining, it should be those who can afford the increase the least.

____

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo, on “Agent for Change.”

“As never before in our history, we are called upon to sustain and expand our commitment to building up the communities where we live. As far as we have come, we must understand how much more we have to do. For unless we continue to work to bridge the fault lines of race and class and the educational and financial disparities that still divide us, we can never expect to reach our true potential…” — Former Gov. William F. Winter at the University of Mississippi, May 10, 2003.

Chapters of Mission Mississippi meeting monthly across northeast Mississippi succeed in broadly breaking down racial barriers as has no other statewide organization.

Mission Mississippi unapologetically grounds itself in Christian relationships, which are foundational in the lives of many Mississippians.

While the spirituality in the movement is central, its influence can reach profoundly further into the life of our state.

In an upcoming book from Oxford University Press, “Open Friendship in a Closed Society: Mission Mississippi and a Theology of Friendship,” author Peter Slade describes the impact changed relationships could have in improving the economic life and prosperity for all citizens.

Slade examines Mission Mississippi from the view of social justice, which in Mississippi inextricably addresses historically lost opportunities for economic fairness, personal prosperity — and making up lost ground.

Slade argues that Mission Mississippi’s goal of “changing Mississippi one relationship at a time” is both a pragmatic strategy and a theological statement of hope for social and economic change in Mississippi.

Mission Mississippi sometimes allies itself formally with economic development organizations and sometimes with sponsoring businesses, as in an upcoming event in Grenada with the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

Slade concludes, in a preview summary of his book, that Mission Mississippi’s outreach indeed offers hope for racial reconciliation and mobilizing economic and social power to benefit broad-based community development.

Slade, who teaches at Ashland University in Ohio, is identified with the “Lived Theology” movement. He recently brought some of his students through Mississippi on a tour of important civil rights landmarks.

The pragmatism Slade describes flows reasonably from strong intra-community relationships. Economic progress as a central focus is a natural outgrowth of people who learn to trust and communicate with one another.

Most of Mississippi’s history had two large blocs of Christian believers, one white and one African-American, saying essentially the same things about their faith, but seldom in conversation with one another.

Mission Mississippi is a powerful agent for change. Reconciliation leads to working together.

____

Enterprise-Journal, McComb, on “Can’t get a job? Stay in school.”

Higher education officials are speculating that the bad economy may spur increased college enrollments, even as tuitions increase in Mississippi.

If they are correct in their predictions, this could be a bright side of the current economic picture. Whatever motivation puts and keeps people in school eventually pays off.

The thinking is that high unemployment rates will cause some students who normally would enter the job market to consider furthering their education, perhaps in graduate school or in a technical field.

“In times of economic stress, people usually turn to higher education for something to do until the job market improves,” says Dr. Aubrey Lucas, interim higher education commissioner.

One problem, though, is affordability. Tuitions and other costs keep going up, and with the loss of jobs and assets, many parents are finding it more difficult to pay Junior’s college expenses.

But various forms of financial aid are available to good students, and assistance programs may become even more accessible under President Barack Obama’s programs.

However it’s financed, higher education is a good investment, even if it requires securing a student loan. When the jobs come back, and inevitably they will, the best educated will be the best equipped to get the most rewarding employment.

A couple of notes of caution, though:

Just enrolling in school doesn’t count. Passing grades are what lead to success.

And few are going to do well at any level in college without an adequate high school education which too many in Mississippi are failing to get.

The Associated Press