January 10, 2018 10:12:05 AM
JACKSON -- Critics are painting a negative picture of Mississippi but the state is enjoying low unemployment and is improving its public education system, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said Tuesday night in a State of the State speech that offered a few new proposals.
"The proverbial critics would have you believe that one is a declining state whose people are suffering mightily," Bryant said. "They search for problems as if there is a reward for finding them."
At the midpoint of his second and final term as governor, Bryant said the state is filled with progress.
"It is inhabited with caring, hard-working people of all races and ages who strive valiantly every day to make this wonderful state a better place to live and raise our children," Bryant said.
He said billions of dollars have been invested in new jobs. Bryant said that during the three-month legislative session, he will offer proposals to reduce government regulations.
He said he supports efforts in the Republican-led Legislature to rewrite the school funding formula, though leaders have not revealed a proposal. The current formula, called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, is designed to ensure school districts receive enough money to meet midlevel academic standards. It has been fully funded only two years since it was put into law in 1997, falling short under leadership from both parties.
Bryant said a new formula "should serve as a road map to success for every child in Mississippi's public schools. It should not be a political prop used to allege someone's failure to support education."
As he has in the past, Bryant advocated expansion of vouchers for children to attend private schools.
"I continue to believe parents should have the freedom to use their tax dollars to send their child to the school of their choice, not one decided by the government," he said.
Vouchers are a contentious issue, with critics saying Mississippi should focus on improving all public schools rather than sending money to private schools.
Bryant said Mississippi continues to "lag behind most of the nation" in health statistics.
"We have an overwhelming tendency to be our own worst enemy when it comes to obesity, substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases," he said.
He also said Medicaid is straining the state budget, and patients and health care providers should focus more on preventing poor health from getting worse.
"We must also insist that positive health care outcomes be the first responsibility of the Medicaid recipients," he said.
One revived proposal is to move the Mississippi Department of Public Safety headquarters from its 1970s-era building in Jackson, out into suburban Rankin County. Bryant added a new twist, saying he wants a new medical conference center to be built on the site of the public safety building, which is near several hospitals.
Bryant said the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, in December, was an important step toward racial reconciliation. He praised President Donald Trump for attending the opening -- an appearance that drew protests by people who said Trump's appearance was an affront to those who put their lives in danger to advance civil rights. Bryant said "the horror of slavery, the indecency of Jim Crow and the dark days of segregation" are all on display at the museum.
"We peered into Mississippi's soul, and saw that it was cleansed of any deceit or malice," he said. "The soul of Mississippi now contained a love for all its people, its traditions and most of all, our future."
He did not mention one issue that continues to divide lawmakers and state residents: The Confederate battle emblem remains on the state flag.