Two things the majority of citizens want from government, whether they are liberal or conservative, are well maintained roads and bridges and a better than average level of safety while traversing those roads.
They don’t have either in Mississippi right now, and it’s steadily getting worse.
That the roads and bridges are deteriorating because of a lack of funding has been evident for the past few years. So far the Legislature has rejected pleas from the business community, including the Mississippi Economic Council, to raises taxes to pay for highway and bridge maintenance.
Now Gov. Phil Bryant and soon-to-retire Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz have raised the alarm over an acute shortage of state troopers.
“We’re almost at the point of declaring a disaster because we’re short on troopers,” Bryant said Friday. “If we can’t get more troopers on the road we’re going to lose lives.”
Santa Cruz says only 489 of the 650 Highway Patrol positions authorized by state law are currently filled. Of these positions, 328 are assigned to the road, and 149 troopers are eligible for retirement.
“We’re so shorthanded right now it’s unreal,” Santa Cruz told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper. “The only thing that’s saved us this past year is no hurricanes in the Gulf, no major tornadoes, no floods, but that little ice storm we just had showed us where we are.”
The newspaper reported that the number of highway injuries and fatalities has been increasing as the number of troopers has declined. Anyone who has driven much on the highways lately, especially the interstates in Mississippi, probably noticed a lot of traffic running in excess of 80 miles an hour and not many Highway Patrol cars pulling them over.
Bryant says he’s going to ask the Legislature for another trooper school to train new recruits. There hasn’t been one since 2015. The governor also said he’s looking at other ways to increase the number of troopers, including possibly recruiting from other law enforcement agencies and reaching out to troopers who have left the state to see if they want to come back.
One major problem is the salary scale. At least five — possibly more — troopers from Mississippi have gone to work in Texas for twice as much salary or more. A Mississippi trooper with four years experience earns $41,000 a year. The same job and experience in Texas pays $89,264.
Meanwhile the Republican-led Mississippi Legislature is reluctant to raise taxes for anything, opting instead to cut taxes for corporations.
Some speculate the legislative leadership is of the “starve the beast” mentality — reducing taxes instead of raising them — and thereby shrinking the size of government.
Public safety, though, isn’t a good place to starve.
The Legislature this session should take some positive action toward adequately funding highways and the Highway Patrol.