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Stop wasting taxpayer dollars

The headline was almost unbelievable: Mississippi paid $2.3M just to hang posters.

Yep, that’s right. Thanks to some dogged work by Clarion Ledger reporter Bracey Harris, we learned that the state has spent millions to hang posters in schools.

The $3 posters (which the state paid to print) were hung by a company for more than $250 each.

Lawmakers directed state agencies to use a company named SkoolAds, which meant it didn’t have to bid on the work. Lawmakers regularly write earmarks into the state budget to avoid the competitive bidding process.

For the past school year, the state paid about $3,000 to print anti-tobacco posters, then paid $255,000 to SkoolAds to hang them, the Clarion Ledger reported.

The company argues that its service is valuable to schools and is an effective form of advertising. The posters are typically hung near water fountains and in cafeterias.

The Department of Transportation said it had been directed to use the company, even though it never wanted to spend its money on posters. MDOT spent $300,000 over three years to hang the posters.

That money could have repaired a few bridges here in Lincoln County.

“We didn’t think it had any real value whatsoever,” MDOT spokesman Chris Turner told the Clarion Ledger “…We want to fix roads. This took our money. This was really unnecessary.”

The obvious question after learning about SkoolAds: Why can’t schools simply hang the posters themselves? SkoolAds didn’t have a good answer.

“The fact that you would even ask me why ‘we don’t just mail the posters’ shows me you have not listened to one thing we have said about our service,” company owner Lori Swaney wrote in an email to the newspaper.

So how did this poster-hanging arrangement come to be? Lobbyists, of course. Since 2011, SkoolAds paid a lobbyist close to former Sen. Terry Burton $362,300. Burton was instrumental in getting the earmark for the company.

Government is wasteful. It’s the nature of the beast. But this is a ridiculous degree of wastefulness, even though the dollar figure is a tiny percentage of the state’s overall budget. Schools are capable of hanging posters without the help of a company charging $250 per poster.

Lawmakers should send SkoolAds packing, and stop funneling taxpayer dollars to favored companies. It’s a waste of what we are told are limited dollars, and it’s a disservice to the voters who put them in office.