Paul Hampton

If the government ran this column, it would be blank

House pages hug and celebrate their last day as the Mississippi Legislature ended its 2017 regular session Wednesday at the Capitol in Jackson.
House pages hug and celebrate their last day as the Mississippi Legislature ended its 2017 regular session Wednesday at the Capitol in Jackson. Associated Press File

I’m running this column like a government.

This week, I’m going to write about three-fourths of a column then take the rest of the week off. I’ll finish it next week. Of course, you’ll have to pay for two papers to get it all.

You know, just like the Mississippi Legislature, which left Jackson last week with a significant part of its work — an appropriation for the Department of Transportation, for example — unfinished. And went home. But the lawmakers expect to come back and finish later. But not much later, because the new fiscal year begins July 1, and without some sort of action MDOT will be essentially broke.

It’s not that they didn’t accomplish anything, even when the accomplishment was to do nothing. They didn’t pass a bond bill, which means you and I could be less in debt.

They passed a bill that among other things clarifies what domestic violence is and made it specifically one of the state’s grounds for divorce. And it’s only the 21 century.

They sent Gov. Phil Bryant a bill that would close a major loophole in campaign-finance law. For years, lawmakers and other state officials have been spending donors’ money on clothes, home repairs and automobiles that had but the thinnest connections to campaigns. If Bryant signs it, they’ll have to buy that stuff the old-fashioned way — with their own money.

Another law they passed will allow craft breweries to sell their beers on the breweries’ premises. If you like craft beer, July 1 will be a special day.

And for pure entertainment, there was a feud between the House and the Senate, and between DeSoto County and the rest of the state.

Now for the bad news. For another year, our public school students will be shortchanged by Jackson and our per-pupil spending will continue to trail much of the nation. But at least they didn’t pass changes to the spending formula at the last minute. They should take all the time they need to get it right because if they get it wrong, the state’s children will suffer for decades.

They also left town with the BP economic-damages settlement money in limbo. The reason? The Coast delegation couldn’t get along. It was not a shining moment.

And they did little to change the way they do business. Most lawmakers, and virtually all Democrats, were kept in the dark for most of the session. About all the minority party could do was complain loudly and toss in the occasional monkey wrench.

They did more budget trimming than a Weed Eater. OK, a chainsaw after a hurricane. That’s OK. That’s the agenda they ran on. They won.

Should they deliver on their other promise — that smaller government will bring economic prosperity — we all win.

If it doesn’t?

If, as I suspect, the filleting of government services hurts a lot of people and accomplishes little in the way of bringing jobs and businesses to the state, there will be another election. If businesses look at the state of our education system, our transportation system, and say, “No, thanks,” there will be another election.

Sometime between now and July 1 the legislators will be back. I’d like to see them reach an agreement on just how bad the roads and bridges are, what the price tag for improving them is and who’s going to pay for it. And they should give Attorney General Jim Hood the money he needs, even if he’ll use it to rein in their corporate buddies.

Like I said, this column isn’t over. There will be more, with or without a special session.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296

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