A conservative proposition: State government should only provide the services our people need and only tax enough to cover costs for these needs.
Many folks will unpack this proposition in different ways. Some will confuse “need” with “want.” Conservatives will want to severely limit the needs government should cover. Let’s shine a little light on this.
The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives states tremendous power to meet the needs of their citizens. The Mississippi Constitution says our state government exists “solely for the good of the whole” and emphasizes the importance of public “safety and happiness.” So, our state government has the constitutional power and the constitutional purpose to provide services Mississippians need. Now “the whole” means all the people, not some of the people or just the people in power.
Balancing the needs of the poor and the rich, the old and the young, the Coast and the Hills, etc., for the “good of the whole” is the great challenge of state government and a dilemma for conservative leadership. Compromise – the seeking of balance – may be the heart and soul of a democratic republic like ours, but has become a dirty word in today’s politics. Yet, conservatives cannot abandon this tenet if our constitutional form of government is to survive.
As noted, public safety is a constitutional priority. So too are public schools. Our constitution mandates the state maintain free public schools (many legislators think this means state and local government). There are no more important economic and social needs our Legislature have to address than these two. Legislators seem to understand the public safety issue. But they endlessly debate the depth and breadth of school needs. It is not conservative to persistently maintain bad schools. Conservatives should fully assume the state’s constitutional duty to maintain public schools…good public schools.
Community colleges and universities have needs. But there is no constitutional requirement that the state address them, other than “happiness” and "the good of the whole." However, one of our great hurdles in economic development comes from our low educational achievement level. We need more college graduates and more of them to stay in Mississippi. Good schools can supply our colleges and universities with more well-prepared students.
Transportation infrastructure is not a constitutional duty. But, our constitution clearly shows its importance by making eminent domain power available for “roads and bridges for public conveyance.” It is not conservative to let our road and bridge crisis linger.
Healthcare is not a constitutional duty. However, since 1862 our constitutions have emphasized the importance of providing care for “those persons who, by reason of age, infirmity, or misfortune, may have claims upon the sympathy and aid of society.” Mississippi’s health ranking sticks at the bottom. Nursing homes, hospitals, community clinics, medical education and training, and more are regulated by and depend upon state government, especially Medicaid. A vast majority of states do much more than Mississippi to cover these needs, including states with very conservative leadership.
Mississippi conservatives have a constitutional duty to do better…or change the constitution.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” – Ephesians 2:10.
Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson