Now is the time for voters to spot leaders

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 8, 2009

As desperately as we all yearn for good news about Mississippi’s economy, every indication is that legislators, who convene in nine weeks, will have a serious problem meeting the state’s obligations.

Other states are in worse condition, but, as Gov. Haley Barbour reported last week, the state is on track to receive about $347 million less than expected from taxpayers through July. For comparison, that’s 11 times the City of Vicksburg’s entire budget.

No elected official is in the mood — at least at the state and local levels — to add more taxes to a public already facing higher costs for energy, medicine and other basic needs in a time of layoffs and cutbacks.

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This year, state operations, although trimmed, are being propped up by $2 billion or more in federal stimulus allocations. Some of that money will be available for the next budget year starting July 1, 2010, but in the not-too-near future those dollars — which are also borrowed and adding to the national debt — will dry up.

Much time could be spent tongue-wagging about the rapid expansion of state spending during the 1990s and the unprecedented bonded indebtedness incurred by lawmakers during an era when state income was surging by double-digit percentages. We could state the obvious, specifically about how much easier it is to expand spending than it is to contract.

Instead, let’s concede we are in an extremely challenging phase of governance. Some in leadership positions, including state Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, are stepping forward, mentioning such topics as university consolidation. Others are lying low, hoping, perhaps, to ride out the storm. This latter group needs to be retired.

During the coming session, there will be the usual daily give-and-take. Voters, however, need to listen for who is rising to the challenge. To get Mississippi through the next several years, we’ll need decisive thinkers. There’s no room for back-slappers and excuse-makers. The coming days demand leadership. The time to think about who our leaders should be is now.