Studio portrait of Sid Salter. (photo by Beth Wynn / © Mississippi State University)
By: Sid Salter
Change. In terms of Mississippi government, change isn’t merely coming – and we’re talking major changes – it’s in great measure already here and identifiable.
At the end of this year, Mississippi will at the very least have elected a new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and state treasurer. We already have a state auditor and a state agriculture commissioner who are both still newly-minted by relatively recent gubernatorial appointments. The only veteran among our eight statewide elected officials who wants to return to his present post and remains unopposed is the state insurance commissioner.
The 2019 election cycle will see significant legislative turnover based Senate and House members either retiring or seeking other offices, including a number of key legislative leaders from the money committees in both houses. Just over 21 percent of the Senate will turn over in this manner. At least nine percent of the House will be similarly impacted based on current announcements of intent.
And that doesn’t count members in both houses unseated in the normal ebb and flow of politics.
In recent days, Mississippi got a new chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court and a new associate justice. Five members of the state’s highest court have only held their seats since 2016.
Two thirds of the Mississippi Transportation Commission isn’t seeking re-election and the same is true for the Mississippi Public Service Commission.
In Washington, one of our U.S. senators has assumed an important new chairmanship while another has less than a full year of service but has significant committee assignments. Both senators are in the Senate’s majority party.
In the House, one of our four members was through realignment in the midterm elections returned an important chairmanship. The other three House members suddenly find themselves in the House minority party – and one of them is a freshman.
Change, in a political environment in which there are marked partisan differences between both major parties at both the state and federals levels, is virtually inevitable. But even if the same party controls both houses of the Legislature under new leadership, change will still come in that arena.
I spoke to a statewide group of economic developers last week. Economic development is just one area that is almost certain to be impacted by change and turnover in the political realm. And since Mississippi’s economic development efforts are tied closely to the Governor’s Office, change is virtually guaranteed regardless who occupies that office and regardless which party he or she represents.
Why? Because there are many approaches to economic development. Some favor tax incentives. Others favor community building or workforce development. Some are pursuing mega site projects. Some are looking to bring 50-100 jobs to small towns that need anchor employment. Or all of the above.
An abstract from the Tax Policy Center’s 2017 review of State Economic Development Strategies by researchers Norton Francis and Megan Randall offered this assessment of the broad base from which most states approach economic development:
“States invest in three areas to encourage job and wage growth: the marketplace, the workforce, and the community. Marketplace investment includes general business support and finance assistance, small-business procurement programs, and tax incentives. Workforce programs develop and train the local labor force, connecting workers to family-sustaining jobs while meeting firm demands for skilled labor. Investment in community includes public goods such as transportation, electricity, telecommunications, and K–12 and higher education. Successful economic development strategies coordinate all three types of investment.”
From data contained in a 2014 statistical snapshot by the Urban Institute release in 2016, Mississippi was spending $21.5 million on economic development compared to Alabama’s $57.7 million, Arkansas’s $41.2 million, Louisiana’s $15.2 million and Tennessee’s $143.6 million. Would it surprise you to learn that in that same snapshot, 15 states were spending less than Mississippi on their economic development efforts? It’s true.
Increasingly, legitimate and time-tested economic development strategies are coming under attack from those who decry jobs creation incentives or tax exemptions as improper government intervention in the effort to help Mississippi compete for economic opportunity. How much attention those voices attract in political campaigns – particularly in party primaries – may have much to do with shaping the future of economic development in the state.