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State officials are elected to make decisions

Gov. Phil Bryant this week told reporters that he would like to see voters decide on two issues next year — the state flag and a gas tax increase.

“I’ve always liked direct democracy,” Bryant said. “If people want to raise taxes, let’s give them an opportunity to have a voice in it. I think you’ll hear a lot of talk about putting that on the ballot, perhaps along with the state flag. I think it would be a good opportunity to … let the people of the state of Mississippi speak with one voice on each of those important issues.”

While that sounds perfectly reasonable, it’s not really how our state government was designed to work. Every thorny issue cannot be put to voters. It’s too expensive for one, but it is also not the form of government we enjoy here in the United States.

Direct democracy — or a pure democracy — is one in which people decide on policy matters directly. We have a representative democracy, which is a system that relies on elected officials who represent voters. Those elected officials are tasked with making decisions, even difficult ones.

Putting a proposed gas tax on a ballot is just an easy way to defeat it. Most people will not vote to raise their own taxes, but that doesn’t mean leaving the fuel tax untouched is what is best for the state. The same goes for the state flag.

If lawmakers want to give voters the say-so in routine matters of state government, then why do we need lawmakers? Tax increases — or decreases — are issues that elected representatives can tackle themselves. If lawmakers are afraid that voting for a gas tax increase will harm their re-election chances, then they should find another line of work.

Lawmakers and other state officials are elected to make decisions, even if they are sometimes unpopular. If they cannot, we need new lawmakers and state officials.