EDITOR'S NOTE: Lt. Governor Delbert Hoseman met with local city and county officials in Cleveland Wednesday to discuss the spending of state and federal stimulus by cities and counties.
Delbert Hosemann is urging city and county government officials all around Mississippi to not only think big but also to think long-term.
They need to listen to the lieutenant governor as they ponder what to do with nearly $1 billion that collectively fell in their laps when Congress, at the prodding of President Joe Biden, enacted the federal government’s latest round of coronavirus relief.
Argue however you will about whether $1.9 trillion — on top of the nearly $4 trillion Congress had previously allocated to deal with the health and economic crises created by the COVID-19 pandemic — was excessive. But assuming Mississippi has no intention of giving the money back, the American Rescue Plan of 2021 has given this state and most of its counties and municipalities the rare opportunity to have enough money to address some serious, longstanding problems with their infrastructure.
Hosemann, in his first term presiding over the state Senate after spending 12 solid years as secretary of state, has been making the rounds to pitch in general outlines what he thinks cities and counties should do with the relief money.
He wants them to partner with state government to repair or replace their water and sewer systems or other critical infrastructure that the federal legislation allows.
When you think of critical infrastructure, road and bridge projects come foremost to mind, but those aren’t included in this round of help. Don’t fret, though. That’s probably coming, too, as Congress debates a transportation bill that is expected to be somewhere between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.
For now, the focus is on water, sewer and possibly high-speed internet. There’s plenty of need for all of that. Many communities deal with crumbling pipes or lead-based ones that are a health hazard. Jackson, the state’s capital city, alone could use a billion dollars to shore up its collapsing water system. As for broadband access, while much progress has been made recently to expand what has become a critical modern-day utility, there are still huge rural areas of this state where internet service is spotty.
What Hosemann is proposing is a collaboration of local governments and the Legislature to make the most out of the $2.7 billion they are getting between them. If local governments are willing to submit their plans for spending their stimulus money to the Legislature for consideration, the state would be willing to match it by as much as 2-to-1, Hosemann suggested.
It’s a superb idea.
The American Rescue Plan should be looked at as a windfall. The way to not squander a windfall is to spend it on long-term needs, not short-term ones, and to concentrate the money on a few major projects, not a bunch of little ones.
Hosemann says he has been getting a good response around the state to the pitch he has been making. Leflore and Carroll county officials seemed receptive to what they heard Wednesday from the lieutenant governor.
They should be. Not only does he have reason on his side, he’s dangling a big carrot. If local governments can triple how much money they have for an infrastructure project just by sticking with the Legislature’s overall vision of what the priorities should be, they would be foolish to not get on board.