Two stories making news today add to evidence that Mississippi’s political leadership seems hellbent on driving our state down, down, down. That neither story is really “new” does nothing to soften their subjects’ profound negative impacts.
The first is the quasi-dismantling of the state Department of Health in the face of drastic budget cuts. Dr. Mary Currier, our long-suffering state health officer, is doing her damnedest to mitigate the damage, but there’s no way that the drastic measures underway – cutting back from nine districts to three regional administrative offices, requiring county offices to make sizable budget cuts of their own, encouraging retirements of seasoned personnel, and eliminating unfilled positions, among them – won’t severely hurt the department, and ultimately threaten the health and well-being of all of us. Public health crises, such as Mississippi’s current alarming spike in STDs, are already overwhelming existing resources; God help us when the next pandemic hits.
The second is the latest edition of Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT report on child well-being. Mississippi is once more at the bottom, 50th out of 50 states, for all the usual reasons that we’ve abysmally failed to address – too many kids in poverty, too many kids not getting health care, too many kids getting substandard education (including no pre-K). While the state has indeed made incremental improvements in some areas (notably in health insurance coverage), the progress is nowhere near enough to move the needle on our national ranking.
Is such bad news the fault of the political leadership? You bet it is, and that leadership should be held accountable. Instead of committing to the hard work of human capital development, the linchpins of which are quality education and accessible health care, our leaders enthuse over tax cuts for corporations and boast about “starving-the-beast” of government. Tax cuts and anti-government rhetoric may make for great electioneering sound bites, but as policy measures they’re nothing but bad. Starving government means depriving us all of much-needed public services; and without public services, the only way to go is down.