Sid Salter Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Salter: Campaign ads failing to refelect headlines pertaining to Senate

Campaign ads don’t reflect the headlines

For the life of me, I’m not sure why either Republican interim U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker or his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, would particularly want to try to make the November special Senate election a debate about fiscal responsibility.

Frankly, Wicker’s dragging the Bush administration’s record $482 billion budget deficit through this campaign and Wicker indeed supported much of the Bush spending proposals with his votes in Congress.

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Wicker has been called to account for the Republican budget deficit during this campaign and the questions are legitimate.

But perhaps more surprising are the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee claims that while governor, Musgrove was a champion of “fiscal common sense” and that he “balanced budgets without raising taxes.”

GOP response

Republicans, including Wicker, Gov. Haley Barbour, Treasurer Tate Reeves and others pounded Musgrove on those claims during speeches at the Neshoba County Fair. Why? Because Musgrove has a fiscal management record and it wasn’t a good one.

After the fair, Musgrove responded to those attacks in a meeting with reporters in Jackson in which he went on the attack, blaming the Bush administration and a problematic economy for economic woes during his gubernatorial term and repeated claims that he decreased state spending by $200 million while governor and that he balanced the budget and left money in the bank each of the four years he served – and didn’t raise taxes.

Charge and countercharge are a natural part of politics. That the Musgrove and Wicker camps would disagree over each other’s fiscal stewardship is expected.

But Musgrove has one problem in this debate. One nonpartisan jury has already ruled on that question and the verdict wasn’t particularly a good one while he was lieutenant governor and governor.

A June 22, 2003 USA Today analysis measured states’ fiscal management and rated Mississippi as the second worst state in the country in terms of wise management of taxing and spending.

‘Poor’ management

The national newspaper study rated California as the state with the worst fiscal management in the country, followed by Mississippi and Montana in a tie for second worst. Using a point-system that took into account spending restraint, the state’s bond ratings and an analysis of the state’s tax system, the newspaper rated the state’s fiscal management as “poor” and pointed to rapid Medicaid program expansion as the key fiscal culprit.

It wasn’t only USA Today noting that imbalance. A report by state College Board economist Dr. Marianne Hill told the tale as well.

Hill’s research documented that between Fiscal Years 1997-2002 in Mississippi, total governmental spending increased 9.2 percent. At the same time, State Tax Commission gross collections of tax revenue increased 4.6 percent.

In other words, state spending increased at almost twice the rate that tax revenues were collected. Debt service increased 64.2 percent for the same period – the fastest-growing expenditure category in state government.

Wicker hasn’t distanced himself from his support of Bush administration spending. Musgrove shouldn’t engage in revisionist history over the “fiscal common sense” – or demonstrable lack of it – he practiced as governor.

(Contact Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail