Dear American taxpayers:
We Mississippians are taught that when someone does something nice for us, it’s only proper to thank them.
In that spirit, thank you for once again paying more than your fair share to the federal government knowing that you would get less than your fair share in return. That’s in part because Mississippi will claim $2.45 of your taxes for every $1 that we paid in.
Between 1990 and 2009, our 3 million residents collected $404 billion in federal spending but only contributed $165 billion in taxes — a $239 billion tab we’ve run up at your expense. Given that our state’s annual GDP is $100 billion, it’s not likely that we’ll repay you anytime soon.
The least we can do is tell you where your money is going. Here’s how the $31.4 billion we received in FY 2010 was spent:
- $9.7 billion for Social Security and other retirement programs
- $4.6 billion for Medicare
- $1.3 billion for food assistance
- $634 million for education
- $258 million for unemployment insurance
- $105 million for affordable housing
- $516 million for farm subsidies
- $465 million for student financial aid
- $1.6 billion for military procurement
- $3.0 billion for salaries and wages
Then there’s the $7 billion in grants from federal agencies, of which $4.3 billion is dedicated to Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program. You’ve given us a sweetheart deal: the federal government pays 74 percent of the costs in Mississippi. Many of your states settle for 50 percent. But just to prove that no good deed goes unpunished, our governor brazenly rejected your offer to send us $400 million more this year and $14 billion over the next decade to cover another 300,000 of our poorest citizens.
Thanks for being so understanding and not asking for the rest of your money back. If you did, we’d be ruined.
Nearly half of our total state budget is composed of federal grants. And you know you’re our first call when we get in a pinch. As our unemployment rate spiked to 10.9 percent during the recession, you came through with $1.6 billion in stimulus funding. Our then-governor railed against the cash infusion that both of our senators and two of our four representatives voted against, but rest assured, we took the money to keep our schools afloat and our state employees on the job.
And how about Hurricane Katrina? In our moment of greatest need, you sent us $5.5 billion to rebuild homes and businesses on the Gulf Coast. Overall federal spending in Mississippi increased by $16 billion between 2005 and 2006. You never asked for reimbursement, even when the Coast’s member of Congress voted “nay” on the bill providing relief funding to the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Consider also the Earned Income Tax Credit, one of the most effective anti-poverty programs going. The EITC reduces the federal tax burden for more than one-third of Mississippi tax filers — the highest rate in the country. That allows working families to keep $1.1 billion in our state every year (and, thus, contribute less to yours). All told, the Census Bureau reports that Mississippi’s poverty rate drops from the national worst of 21 percent to the national average of 16 percent once non-cash government benefits, taxes, and cost of living are taken into account.
Instead of thanking you, we call you “socialists” and “tyrants.” Occasionally we’ve invoked the doctrine of nullification to stand against civil rights, or, more recently, education standards and gun control. But if you were only interested in gratitude, we probably wouldn’t be here right now. After all, you fought a war to keep us around. We showed our appreciation by placing the symbol of rebellion on our state flag.
Don’t let our stubborn pride discourage you. You’ve often had an uncanny ability to understand our needs even better than we do. When you saw hunger in the Delta, you created the food stamp program. When you saw that our children were not getting early education and health services, you created Head Start. When you saw rural Mississippians living in the dark, you created TVA. None of those things would or could have been done on our own.
So, as you consider future investment in our state, please disregard our leaders’ history of blustery defiance. Think instead of the Mississippians who grab onto the lifeline that your generosity provides — often, the only one available to them. On their behalf, we say a long-overdue thank you.