Employment agency dispute bad politics and dangerous for state

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Democratic lawmakers’ calls for public scrutiny of state agencyadvertising contracts represent an attempt at micro management thatalso could be harmful to employers, employees and the state’seconomy in general.

During the regular legislative session that ended last month,lawmakers failed to reauthorize the budget for the MississippiDepartment of Employment Security after House Democrats tried toinclude in the bill guidelines on how state agencies spend theiradvertising dollars.

Gov. Haley Barbour contends the move was targeted atconservative talk radio stations – which have been critical ofHouse speaker Billy McCoy and other Democrats – and that it was”foolish and wrongheaded” to link the ad dispute to employmentagency reauthorization.

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McCoy denied the governor’s assertion, saying lawmakers wereinterested in efficient and effective advertising spending for allagencies. Perhaps, but if the new rules were to somehow steeradvertising dollars away from editorial voices critical ofDemocratic House leadership, we don’t think McCoy and hisassociates would be too disappointed.

The danger in involving MDES in the advertising dispute is theimmediate threat of employers having to pay much higherunemployment insurance taxes on their employees.

Speaking to the Mississippi Economic Council last week, Barboursaid that should the agency go out of existence those employercosts to business would increase eight-fold because the state wouldnot be able to collect the federal government’s share. He said itwas “bad politics” to jeopardize the unemployed and to increaseemployers’ costs.

It is not only bad politics, but bad policy. Increasing the costof doing business in these tough economic times simply translatesinto fewer jobs and higher consumer prices.

The MDES dispute appears to be another example of a powerstruggle between the executive and legislative branches of stategovernment, with a side order of partisan politics thrown in forgood measure.

To demonstrate their thick skin and to prove the issue truly isnot simply about squelching critical commentary, House leadershipwould do well to quickly reauthorize the state employment agencyfunding during an upcoming special session. Otherwise, employersand citizens won’t need much scrutiny to decipher lawmakers’motives in the debate.