Saturday, August 04, 2007

"Perry might have done well to research the ways in which Mississippi appears 'enlightened' compared to Texas before he opened his mouth."

Five reasons to 'become Mississippi'

August 04, 2007

The Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2007

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in remarks dating back to January 18, 2003, commented, "I don't want to become Mississippi." He went on to mention transportation, economic development and education — three areas in which states are struggling in tight economic times. As one might expect, the leadership of Mississippi took great exception to his remarks.

There is nothing wrong with being proud to be a Texan; however, Perry might have done well to research the ways in which Mississippi appears "enlightened" compared to Texas before he opened his mouth. A quick comparison reveals at least five ways in which Texas might do well to "become Mississippi."

In Mississippi, everyone is in someone's community college tax district. Just as the public school system is available to all citizens in Mississippi, the entire state is covered by accessible higher education. What is the result? Greater affordability and access to higher education. Furthermore, for public education, Mississippi spends $3,434 per pupil, versus $3,186 in Texas.

Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the nation, with 20.2 percent lacking coverage, compared to 13.2 percent for Mississippi. Texas leads the nation in total population without health insurance at 24.2 percent. Mississippi, on the other hand, has a total of 17.4 percent uninsured, ranking 13th.

Regarding state and local spending per individual, a comparison of both states for the year 2000 shows that Mississippi spent $4,897 per person. Texas spent $4,592. That might sound like something to be proud of, were it not for one little matter: The data also show the overall tax bill for Mississippians totaled $2,214 per person per year. Texans paid more — $2,504.

Texas ranks sixth in the nation for crimes per 100,000 residents, with 6,439. Mississippi ranks 36th nationally with 4,418.

Consider a few more categories. Surprised? Highways. Perhaps it might support Perry's argument for increased toll roads that Mississippi spent $433 per person on highways in 2000, while Texas spent only $345. Parks and natural resources? Mississippi spent $137 per person, while Texas only $107.

Furthermore, both states rank fairly low in the percentage of their populations over 25 holding a high school diploma, but Mississippi ranks 44th with 80.3 percent while Texas comes in 46th with 79.2 percent.

Mississippi spends like a poor state because it is a poor state. Texas spends like a poor state because state elected officials do not place a high value on health and education.

The point of this comparison is not to belittle Texas. Rather, it is to show that a state which has been blessed with so many resources, so much wealth, so large a population and such diversity has the potential to do so much better — to take better care of all Texans and provide better education, safer communities, and a better standard of living for everyone.

A government for the people will fulfill that mission. Hoping for such a government will not be enough; we have to work to make such a government a reality in Texas.

William Holda is the president of Kilgore College.

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