Article Comment 

Slimantics: The orange cone business, a growth industry in Mississippi

 

Slim Smith

 

 

I hate to be the one to mention it, but our state is pretty much falling apart. 

 

This week, Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency over the condition of bridges in this state after being informed that the state had neglected an order by the Federal Highway Administration to close bridges that had been declared unsafe in 2016. 

 

That should hardly come as a surprise to any Mississippian, of course. We've known that our state's roads and bridges were falling apart for years now. The people who run our state, good Republicans all, have acknowledged it. "Ain't that just awful," they say and sort of shrug their shoulders as if keeping our roads passable and our bridges from falling into the creek were some sort of God-ordained plague that has descended on our state, quite possibly because of "the gays." 

 

Normally, when outside sources -- especially the federal government, which provides about 2/3 of the money used to keep the state operating -- point out that there is some crisis in our state, the response is "mind your own business." 

 

But this was different. This time, the government not only pointed out the problem, it said fix it or risk losing millions of dollars in federal highway funds. 

 

That got folks' attention. 

 

In an instant the attitude went from "oh, well" to "oh, crap." 

 

The Governor thundered his state of disaster declaration and, lo and behold, The Mississippi Department of Transportation is busy closing 102 bridges that are considered deficient. "Deficient" is a technical term for "you can probably make it to the other side, maybe." 

 

Like most things in our state, real problems are not addressed until the feds threaten to cut off the flow of federal tax dollars. 

 

That's how civil rights laws were finally enforced in our state, how our state's shameful foster care program was reformed and now, how the woefully dangerous condition of our roads and bridges infrastructure will finally get the attention it deserves. 

 

It took the state legislature three years to even propose even a stop-gap measure for our roads and bridges, a $1 billion solution to a $3.75 billion problem, literally a band-aid on a gaping and growing wound. 

 

Even that bill was a myth, funded by make-believe state funds and very real local tax increases. It died an inglorious and well-deserved death in this year's session. 

 

In light of this state of emergency, you might expect the Governor to call a special session of the legislature to, at long last, do something meaningful about our state's infrastructure. 

 

But what good would that do? 

 

Providing adequate roads and bridges, like providing adequate education, is costly and our state is pretty much broke. For years now, our legislature has been on a tax-cutting orgy which is always good politics, but more often than not terrible policy. 

 

So, even as the largest corporate tax cut in Mississippi history begins to go into effect in July, the resources needed to keep us safe on our roads and bridges are nowhere to be found. 

 

The good news is that it doesn't cost much to close bridges, just a few signs and some of those orange cones. 

 

Fixing those roads and bridges is a different matter. 

 

That requires money. Mississippi does not have money. It refuses to have money, in fact. 

 

Over the past seven years, since the Republicans claimed all three branches of government, we've gone out of our way to make certain we don't have money. 

 

Legislators lay awake at night trying to figure out new ways to bring in less money. 

 

But there's some indication that Mississippians have about had it with these state tax cuts. According to a NBC News/Survey Monkey poll released overnight Wednesday, 62 percent of Mississippians favor a tax increase to fund road/bridge infrastructure repairs.  

 

Meanwhile, our state is falling apart, which I realize is an awfully rude thing to say. 

 

On the bright side, Mississippians have one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation. My advice: Invest those tax savings in the orange cone business. It's likely to be one of the few real growth industries in our state.

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

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