Friday, October 07, 2005

Mississippi: Not Louisiana

Just glancing at this interview with Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi, it's clear that his state's approach to government, entitlement and recovery is entirely different from that of Louisiana. Compare Gov. Barbour's statements and media coverage of Mississippi to the news from Louisiana in recent weeks ($250 billion legislative request; delayed scheduling of special state legislative session; pleas for federal money to subsidize bloated public payrolls; blaming the federal government; ineffective leadership at all levels, etc...) and the differences are clear-cut: Start with the pre-Katrina environment. Barbour on the MS state budget:

It is important for us to be good stewards. But my own view about government is that when you are not at a crisis that is the time to start looking for savings. My state’s budget for this fiscal year that started July 1 was 1.75% less than we spent last year, real savings. Most of the departments and agencies took 5% cuts. We would have been spending, and were spending, less on Medicaid this year than last year. Not less than the baseline projection, not less than somebody asked for, but less... We were going to spend 1.75% less this year than last year.
Barbour on the breadth of destruction in MS:
We have had about a half a million households, over 40% of the families in our state, who have applied for disaster assistance. Seventy percent of our population, and more than half the area of the state, are in counties that have been declared major disaster areas. So, we are not talking about a calamity on the coast. We are talking about 29,000 square miles and 47 of our 82 counties. That’s by the way, 29,000 out of 47,000 square miles. If you take 1.9 million people, which is how many people live in these counties, and if you get 98% of things right, there are 4,000 people a day who have something to complain about.
Barbour on federal government footing the bill:
...I don’t think it’s right for them [federal government] to pay the whole bill, because it’s important that the state and local governments be contributing. That will help make us good stewards, because we will be stewards of our own money as well as the federal taxpayers’ money. As I understand it, there have been 90-10 splits in the past, and that’s what we would like to see. Now, the federal government is paying 100% in the immediate wake of the storm, but when we come to rebuilding our infrastructure, we would like for the federal government to pay 90% and us to pay 10%. We would not favor the federal government paying 100%.
Asked about Louisiana's request for $250 billion, Barbour says:
... I don’t think the cost of relief, recovery and rebuilding will be anything like that amount. That seems to me very excessive. We are trying to project what the costs would be here and it is a small fraction of that... [Mississippi's needs] will be well under $50 billion. Well under. Our best estimates right now are in the low thirties. I don’t want anybody to think we are trying to compare Mississippi to anyone else. We’ll stand on our own two feet. We need the federal government’s help. At the same time, we are going to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, and we are not going to try to use this as a way to gouge the taxpayers.
The differences between Louisiana's and Mississippi's political cultures are stark. And those differences are being noted by people across the country. So Louisiana's not only squandering its opportunity to improve a poor national reputation, it's actually providing new fodder confirming that the poor reputation remains an accurate portrayal of the state's political reality.