Social workers don’t care for Gov. Reeves’ brand of “boldness”

January 27, 2021

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves delivered his “state of the state” address yesterday to a Covid-emptied legislative chamber in Jackson. It’s been a rough year for both Reeves and the state – a bumper crop of natural disasters, a racial justice crisis, a collapsing economy, and, of course, the never-ending pandemic. Against a generally unpleasant backdrop, the governor’s own popularity has dropped like a rock, plummeting to 34% approval and 49% disapproval ratings, according to a recent Millsaps College poll.

Who could argue with the governor’s contention that “this is a time global upheaval, uncertainty, and chaos,” or even that a battered Mississippi needs to “think big,” toward “a bold move” and “action”? Certainly I don’t.

But what Reeves has in mind is far from my liking, and, I think, quite other than what social workers ought to support. In this, the poorest state in the nation, enduring generally the lowest rankings on virtually every indicator of social well-being, the governor wants to eliminate the income tax, thereby choking off one-third of the state’s revenue.

The rationale for this “bold” move is the same argument Republicans and the libertarian right have relied on ever since they managed to popularize “supply side” economics in the 1980s. Cutting taxes (like regulation) is supposed to act like adrenaline for the economy, creating “an incentive…to invest here, to grow here, and to live here.” Eliminating the income tax will “transform the economy,” enriching the state through growth. Moreover, canceling the income tax will “reward” working people, who, says the governor, know only too well that government only spends by taking money out of their pockets.

In fact any future tax cuts will only do what tax cuts have always done in the past – make the rich richer, stifle state income, and provide a handy basis for austerity and public program cuts when revenues sink, as they inevitably do. The result is an expansion of suffering for the most vulnerable beyond the already intolerable levels.

How about considering a couple of alternative “bold moves” for Mississippi to make?

First, let’s repeal earlier corporate tax cuts that are bleeding the treasury.

Next, instead of cutting them, let’s raise income taxes, and spend the extra revenue generated on adequately funding our public schools, improving our decaying physical infrastructure, expanding health care coverage, and restoring capacity to our battered public health and mental health systems.

Those moves are in fact business investment-friendly, and would go further to “transform our economy” than tax cuts of any type. They are, moreover, moves that social workers could enthusiastically endorse. And who knows? They might even help to improve the governor’s sinking approval rating.

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