The latest stories that caught our eye from across Mississippi and beyond. So grab a cup of coffee, sink back in your chair, and enjoy.
You Have to Pass the Bill to Find Out What is In It
One has to wonder if Mississippi Senators understood the MAEP revisions they unanimously voted for this week. Particularly, if they understood that they were voting to force higher property taxes in some of their own districts.
Schools are funded through three sources—federal, state, and local dollars. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program (“MAEP”) is the formula used by the state to determine how much money districts should receive.
Most of the MAEP dollars are state dollars funded by the various taxes collected from citizens. But local districts must also contribute to funding MAEP. Districts must contribute a minimum of 28 mills (a unit of property tax).
There is a caveat, though. Under current law, the local contribution to MAEP is capped at 27 percent. In effect, this means that a district that can collect 27 percent of MAEP at 22 mills is not required to go up to 28 mills. It also means that a district with lower property values, taxing at 28 mills, is not required to go up to 27 percent.
If that’s clear as Mississippi mud, here’s an example. The current MAEP formula calls for about $70.1 million in state and local funding for Madison County Schools. At 27 percent, the District’s capped contribution is $18.9 million.
The MAEP revisions passed by the Mississippi Senate included raising the cap on local contributions from 27 percent to 29.5 percent. That’s a nearly 10 percent increase. Applied to the example of Madison County Schools, it would raise the local contribution to $20.7 million, a roughly $1.8 million bump from current levels.
District contributions to education funding come from property taxes. The rule change passed by the Senate would require districts impacted by the cap increase to either reallocate existing tax dollars to cover (stop funding other things) or raise property taxes.
Since New Jersey outfit Ed Build came to town in 2017, the argument for raising or removing the cap is to force districts with higher property values to cover more of their costs locally. The logic is that more state dollars can then be sent to districts with lower property values.
The idea is the closest thing to the “rich paying their fair share” in Mississippi. It is ungrounded from the reality that wealthier areas of the state already pay the bulk of state taxes that are then redistributed throughout the state.
Attempts to alter the 27 percent rule scuttled hopes of funding formula reforms in 2017. In 2018, a funding formula bill appeared without the change to the 27 percent rule, but it still could not get over the finish line in the Mississippi Senate. That year, much of the opposition came from progressive forces opposed to anything not called MAEP.
The Senators I’ve spoken to have all voiced three common things about the vote this week:
- They weren’t given a chance to really dig into it before having to vote
- It was explained to them as a simple technical revision
- They knew the House would kill it
READ MORE: All Hail MAEP, Patron Saint of Education Funding
Mostly Peaceful Protests
I have a confession: I do not watch cable news. My blood pressure thanks me for it. But I do occasionally read about it, or stumble onto clips on that toxic maelstrom known as Twitter.
Tucker Carlson made some news this week when he obtained and shared video from the now infamous January 6th Capitol Riots.
I suppose the footage shows that not everyone who went inside the Capitol that day was violent or destructive. I suppose it also shows that Capitol Police had different levels of comfort with the intrusion, or at a minimum, different tactics in handling the intrusion. The Shaman guy was allowed to pray from the Senate chamber. (This is a normal look, right? The kind of fella you’d bring home to mother.)
But I’m not sure exactly what any of that proves. To my knowledge, no one ever said that everyone in the building that day posed a threat. The fact that some people did not pose a threat is not proof that no one posed a threat.
Everyone in the Capitol that day was there as a byproduct of some protesters using force to gain entry. Violence occurred. People were hurt. Property was damaged. The peaceful transfer of power, a hallmark of stable democracies, was interrupted.
That the Shaman guy was allowed to pray from the floor of the Senate does not mean he should have been on the floor of the Senate. It may well just mean that Capitol Police were attempting to avoid further escalation.
At best, the footage shown on Carlson’s show speaks to the hypocrisy of tribalism. CNN was rightly panned for its “Fiery But Mostly Peaceful Protests” chyron against a backdrop that looked like “Operation Shock and Awe” had come to Kenosha, Wisconsin. The station was attempting to normalize a clearly chaotic and violent situation as cover for those involved.
Carlson’s coverage may well be useful in exposing that hypocrisy: “If you can say it was mostly peaceful in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I can say it was mostly peaceful on January 6th.”
But normalizing bad behavior by comparing it to other bad behavior should not be the standard. “He did it first” is the cry of 5-year-olds. As a society, we should be comfortable pointing out bad behavior, regardless of whether the offender is in our tribe. What happened on January 6th was wrong. Perhaps the coverage has been dramatized or selective. Perhaps it has been leveraged for political gain. But it was wrong. Full stop.
The Supremes Rule
No, no. Not those Supremes, though they were pretty darn good. I’m talking about the ones who wear funny robes to court.
There are so many stories emerging from Jackson and so much discussion about how to fix its problems, it would be easy to forget the garbage collection feud. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba wanted to hire Richard’s Disposal to pick up the City’s garbage. The City Council said “thanks, but no thanks. We like Waste Management.” The Mayor hired Richard’s Disposal anyway.
The maneuvering triggered a series of lawsuits. Richard’s Disposal wanted to get paid. The Mayor wanted the courts to say he had the authority to “veto” the City Council turning down his request.
Yesterday, the Mississippi Supreme Court took a bite at that argument. The Court ruled against Mayor Lumumba finding that a mayor cannot “veto” a decision by a city council not to act. That this even had to be decided by a court is somewhat ludicrous. It would be like saying a governor could veto a decision by the legislature not to pass a bill.
Glass Houses, Stones & Whatmenot
This week, Mississippi Today Editor Adam Ganucheau encouraged me on Twitter to be more diverse and open-minded, and not boxed in by “interest group labels.” This admonishment came after I tweeted about conservatism. I am a traditional conservative. I won’t hide from that or pretend that I am not. I do think the term has lost most meaning, though, in a state that labels everything “conservative.”
On the flipside, there is no inherent nobility in progressive members of the media avoiding the label of progressive when all of their writing makes clear that is their perspective. As an example, here are the four times Mr. Ganucheau has published his writing as Mississippi Today “Editorials.” They all evince a certain political perspective:
One synopsis of these pieces might be: “Republicans bad.” A more fulsome synopsis might be “Republicans are racist, they are sexists killing babies and moms, they have purposefully broken the democratic process, and they are thieves.” It’s fine for Mr. Ganucheau to believe these things, or even to write sensational or innuendo-driven headlines. Following them with high-minded calls for diversity of thought may be a bit of a stretch, but I’m not the hypocrisy police.
In addition to being conservative, I am a pluralist. I believe we benefit as a society from a great diversity of viewpoints. It’s candidly one of the reasons I started Magnolia Tribune—because I felt like media coverage in the state was somewhat myopic. It is also one of the reasons Magnolia Tribune separates our news coverage from opinion commentary, and why we host a wide range of perspectives, including through our Point-Counterpoint series. A robust marketplace of ideas allows people to have the necessary information to decide for themselves.
Donna Ladd, Publisher of Mississippi Free Press, also took aim at a Magnolia Tribune article this week, once again, on Twitter:
So much to unpack in this tweet. I was the author of the offending the piece. Yes, I was born white and male. I am not sure what that has to do with offering analysis of a political race. I did learn a long time ago that we should not discriminate against people on the basis of immutable characteristics, but it seems like what she is saying is that my perspective should be discounted or marginalized because of how I was born.
If I were an Asian woman, and Ms. Ladd led with “more horse-race reporting by an Asian woman,” most people would view that as both racist and sexist. There seems to be a bit of a double standard at play. This kind of identity politics often prevents real conversation. It puts the speaker in the position of explaining why he or she has the right to have an opinion versus debating the actual ideas at hand. It is a cheap and lazy tactic. Ms. Ladd also has white males on her staff that write about politics. Hopefully, that’s not a problem for her.
Notably, the article talked about three separate policy pain points, not just the recent passage of legislation prohibiting sex change treatment for minors. In addressing demographic challenges for Presley, it discussed both racial divides within the Democratic Party and “rural versus urban” divides. The article quoted Democratic Party Chairman Tyree Irving and Democratic operatives like James Carville on these issues. It was a pretty straight take of some of the difficulties in winning as a Democrat in Mississippi. It also explored some of Presley’s very real strengths.
READ MORE: Presley’s Path to Governor’s Mansion is Narrow
For the record, I’m glad that both Mississippi Today and Mississippi Free Press are on the field. Both help ensure that in a state that is “supermajority” Republican, there are outlets sharing progressive perspectives. That’s a good thing. There are also very good reporters at both outlets. For example, I’ve always thought Geoff Pender at Mississippi Today calls things pretty fairly and think Ashton Pittman at Mississippi Free Press tries really hard to get to the heart of issues. Pender and Pittman aren’t alone.
Truth be told, this media war stuff is pretty silly, but I also understand why other outlets would want to undermine Magnolia Tribune in its infancy.