How good public policy is lifting up our state

By Mississippi Center for Public Policy
June 19, 2023

The average person in Mississippi is 25 percent richer today than they were in 2017. In just five years, the per capita income in our state went from $36,902 to $46,248.

Before you ask, those dollar amounts are in constant 2022 dollars. In other words, even allowing for inflation, Mississippians are a quarter richer now than they were only five years ago.

Does it surprise you that Mississippi is actually doing well? For as long as anyone can remember, Mississippi has been browbeaten into believing that we are bottom of the class, with the lowest income and slowest growth.

It is time we stopped thinking of our state as last. As someone new to this state, I can see it’s an outdated image. As someone that has looked at the numbers, I know it just isn’t so.

Between 1959 and 2022, Mississippi was the second fastest-growing state in America, with average annual growth of 2.61 per year.

Pretty impressive, no? It would have been a lot more impressive if it was not for the period between 1980 and 2010. Having achieved some remarkably fast growth relative to other US states in the 1960s and 1970s, Mississippi slowed down dramatically in the 80s, 90s and the noughties.

Mississippi had three decades of sluggish growth from about 1980 to 2010 because our state had bad public policies.

For much of the period from 1980 to 2010, Mississippi was a one-party (Democrat) fiefdom. The size of government grew. More and more people were hired to work at public expense, crowding out the private sector. With too much government and too many people living at public expense, taxes rose relative to those in other states. More bureaucrats meant more bureaucracy. After decades of more government, you needed permits and approval for far too many things in our state.

With Mississippi not prospering, her leaders turned to Washington for help. Politics in the state focused on how to secure handouts from the feds. If grants from the federal government made a state rich, Mississippi would be the richest state in America. They don’t – and Mississippi stayed in the economic slow lane.

The real news is that after decades of these bad public policies, Mississippi is starting to grow rapidly again. Why? Because bad public policy is being replaced by good public policy.

In the past few years, Mississippi has significantly cut the tax burden, notably slashing the state income tax to a flat 4 percent. Since 2018, the size of the public payroll has been significantly reduced.

In 2021, there was an important move made to deregulate the labor market, with a universal occupational licensing law. This has put pressure on licensing boards to remove some of the most arduous red tape.

As a direct consequence of this not only is per capita income in our state rising, but we are growing faster relative to other states. Having been one of the slower-growing states since the 1980s, between 2020 and 2022, Mississippi was the 15th fastest-growing state in America.

Just imagine what our state might achieve if we were to build on these public policy improvements and completely eliminate the income tax?

What if we repealed some of the so-called CON laws that inflate the cost of health care in our state, and made Mississippi a less costly place for employers to hire?

Far from being bottom of the class, Mississippi school standards have in fact improved. The use of phonics and testing has had a significant impact on children’s literacy. What if we built on that achievement by giving mom and dad control over their child’s share of education tax dollars to spend at a school of their choice?

Mississippi needs leaders prepared to build on the impressive reforms of the past few years, and which are already having a significant impact in improving our state. We need leaders who believe that with good public policy, Mississippi can be the equal of any state. It is good policy, not federal handouts that will decide if we prosper.


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