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A crushing load of debt could drag Mississippi's economy for decades

By Staff
Feb. 25, 2001
Mississippi is on the verge of assuming a boatload of trouble. It comes in the form of a state debt burden that could sink a battleship.
Here is the sad news, delivered by state Treasurer Marshall Bennett to the State Tax Commission and duly reported by the Mississippi Manufacturer's Association:
Mississippi's debt load doubled from $1.25 billion in 1996 to $2.5 billion in 2000. Debt service now makes up 5.5 percent of the general fund. Mississippi now ranks 11th nationally in state debt per capita, and has gone from 30th to 9th in state debt income compared to personal income in the last decade.
Fiftieth in education. Ninth in debt. First in an inability to live within its means.
In short, the state is on the wrong course by mortgaging the future to pay current bills because the rosy revenue projections by state bureaucrats fell far short of expectations.
Mississippians will be asked to pick up this crushing burden of state debt service just at a time when the federal government is paying down the national debt and federal tax relief is probable. It's the old dance one step forward, two steps back and the people still pay.
The politicians will tell us Mississippi's budget must be balanced, that the state has spending priorities, that teachers' salaries must be raised, that students need computers. It's all true. It's also true a balanced state budget is a requirement of our constitution.
But borrowing money and putting future revenue collections up as collateral is no way to prepare for the future. Too much debt chasing too much spending is a formula for economic disaster that will catch up to Mississippi eventually. Too many state and local bond issues are feeding too many bond lawyers who represent clients which don't know the meaning of the word "restraint."
The long-term picture is not encouraging. Borrowing against future growth is, at best, a gamble, yet the governor and Legislature seem intent on rolling the dice.