Crisis after crisis plagues revenue-strapped Jackson

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Apparently frustrated over the fact that yet another boil water notice has been issued for the city of Jackson, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba recoiled at the action, saying that the true circumstances did not warrant the MS State Department of Health issuing the notice. In another action, Councilman Kenneth Stokes led an effort to have the city council initiate a lawsuit against the state of Mississippi over its law that permits “hot pursuits” by police officers from one jurisdiction to another for misdemeanor offenses. In still another story, a resident of the city bemoaned the fact that so many youngsters here are able to obtain firearms and end up killing others. These stories and more help to dramatize the many crises with which Jackson and much of Mississippi is plagued today.

During any typical week, the local media is likely to begin one story under the heading of, “the continuing crisis of crime in the capital city,” another under the heading of “the ongoing water crisis,” and still another on “the court battle over garbage collection.” Then, there will be stories on the lesser publicized but even older crisis of the aged streets and bridges that are in terrible condition. 

Those who live in the city are also aware of the declining enrollment in the public schools and their challenge from being underfunded by the state and undercut by the charter schools.  They are also aware of the fact that many businesses are either moving from or locating just outside the city, and that many upper income individuals are choosing to live elsewhere, while earning their incomes from the city, the public school district, or other Jackson enterprises.

It does not require a genius to observe and figure it all out. (1) Jackson’s water and sewage problems stem directly from the fact that the systems were built decades ago and were not adequately maintained over the years so that now the needs are so great that Jackson’s municipal government is unable to keep up. (2) The problems with Jackson streets and bridges are based upon exactly the same circumstance. It is almost as a cruel joke of nature that both sets of problems accumulated under white city administrations that operated from wealthier tax bases and with citizens who paid lower taxes, but came to a head under Black administrations that had to raise higher taxes and operate with a declining tax base. (3) Crime in the city results from multiple sources, among them being the ease with which residents can get and carry weapons – the state refusing to tighten gun ownership laws; inadequately monitoring gun dealers at gun shows, pawn shops, and the like; and at the same time, encouraging a “wild west” mentality through its open-carry provisions and loose interpretation of the Second Amendment. The hot pursuit laws and the idea that white law enforcement officials need to oversee Black ones or at least be the ones used to protect “white neighborhoods” as in the case of the Capitol Area police force, reflect a racial mentality that should have died with the demise of chattel slavery. (4) The crises that are faced by the public schools have been largely initiated and intensified by actions of the state – inadequate funding, outdated curricula, and the authorization of charter schools.

As these crises have mounted, those most able to help alleviate the problems have fled the city. This includes middle and upper income Black and white people. The city dropped from more than 200,000 in 1980 to less than 150,000 in 2020. Finding ways and means to stem that tide is crucial. Strong residency requirements can help. Mounting “buy local campaigns” can help. More intensive campaigns to keep and attract businesses can also help. As a matter of fact, as older people used to say, “every little bit helps.” The drain has to be halted, and hopefully reversed.

As outward migration occurred and the void was created, the state legislature has done the bare minimum to assist Jackson, the capital city of the state. That minimal effort apparently stems from the fact that Jackson is not only predominantly Black in terms of its population, but is predominantly Democratic in a Republican dominated-state. 

Along that line of thought and action, the state legislature has not only turned down requests for needed appropriation to fix problems of water and infrastructure. The legislature has refused to permit Jackson to raise revenue through local income taxes or toll fees. It did permit the enactment of a 1% sales tax, but narrowed the items on which the tax could be collected such that it affects very few who work in the city but live elsewhere. 

Often the city has had to rely on federal funds to deal with problems concerning water, sewage, roads, and bridges. Thanks to Congressman Bennie Thompson, when such funds have been available, he has helped secure them for Jackson.

A recent meeting held by local Black legislative leaders – Zakiya Summers, William “Bo” Brown, Alyce Clarke, De’Keither Stamps, Sollie Norwood, and Hillman Frazier – underscored both the problems experienced by the city of Jackson and the reluctance of the state legislature to assist with the problems. In their legislative update session, the lawmakers not only sought legislative ideas from citizens, they also shared with the audience the need for ideas and strategies that can help sway Republican legislators, who make up 67% of both chambers. Their plea should not fall on deaf ears because without such assistance, Jackson will continue to be revenue-strapped and therefore plagued by crises of human making. 

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Crisis after crisis plagues revenue-strapped Jackson

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
August 7, 2022