Clarifying an issue for voters — and it’s all as clear as mud

“Eschew obfuscation” read the neat sign on the desk of my long-ago communications professor. He took delight in pointing to it while mercilessly dissecting the work of his would-be writers.

Avoid confusion, be clear, was the loose translation of the sign, a dictum too often lost on those in government, where clarity is a scarce commodity and confusion too often the deliberate goal.

A prime example is in Mississippi’s upcoming general election. Initiative 42, which some 200,000 voters signed petitions to get on the ballot, is an attempt by pro-education supporters to require that the legislature fully fund K-12 school programs in accordance with the law it passed in 1990 — it has done so only twice since then, creating a $1.7 billion statewide shortfall, initiative supporters say.

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Opponents were quick to object to Initiative 42, contending its passage would remove the legislature from the education funding equation and put decisions in the hands of a chancery judge, which they say could result in an even bigger mess for the state’s education system.

Further, they contend, it could mean substantial cuts to higher education, including ag-related Extension/research programs: $6 million yearly on the very conservative side, potentially as much as $12 million, both of which could necessitate reductions in workforce and programs.

Perspectives of the Mississippi Delta: A photo essay by Rory Doyle

So, the legislature, in an unprecedented move, developed an alternative measure, 42 A, aimed at clarifying the situation, and set in motion a war of words between the opposing factions.

The verbiage on the ballot to “explain” 42 and 42 A — written in indecipherable bureaucratese — has only further muddied the waters of confusion. Voters will be asked first to choose “for” approval of an initiative, or “against” both initiatives. Then, depending on their first choice, they are asked to vote “for” either 42 or 42 A. Consequences of voting for or against one and not the other, not voting on either, or various permutations, are all the more bewildering.

Farming the Arkansas Delta: Photos by Brittney Turner

As the election draws near, voters are beset by a barrage of TV commercials and opinion pieces warning of dire consequences no matter how they vote. Each side accuses the other of misinformation and scare tactics.

Given the rampant obfuscation, it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

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ADDENDUM: On Oct. 28, the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation issued a statement urging a vote against both Initiative 42 and Initiative 42 A. The statement follows:

POLICY STATEMENT GENERAL ELECTION- NOVEMBER 3, 2015

INITIATIVE 42

MISSISSIPPI FARM BUREAU® FEDERATION POLICY SUPPORTS A “VOTE AGAINST BOTH” ON INITIATIVE 42

In December 2014, the delegate body of the Mississippi Farm Bureau ® Federation passed policy language that states:  “We oppose funding public schools through a constitutional amendment.”

Initiative 42 places ultimate authority of public education funding and policy decisions in the chancery courts of the State and removes the word “Legislature” entirely from Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution.   It inserts the language: “The chancery courts of this state shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.”

Farm Bureau fundamentally supports adequate funding for public education, but believes the Mississippi Legislature should remain in control of the state’s educational policy and funding, not the state’s judicial system.

Farm Bureau believes passing Initiative 42 could result in the judicial system (one single judge) being able to control almost half of the state’s budget, and passing Initiative 42 will have dire unintended consequences for the state’s educational system, resulting in endless lawsuits at taxpayer expense. 

Farm Bureau also has major concerns that passing Initiative 42 will result in drastic cuts to other vital state programs (IHL, Mississippi State University Extension Service, other state agencies, funds for county infrastructure repair, public health services, etc.), thus creating the potential for local ad-valorem tax increases to restore funding for many of these vital services.

Farm Bureau believes Mississippians should control the state’s educational policy and funding with their elected members of the Mississippi Legislature, not by the court system.

For more information, visit www.42truth.com

For these reasons, Mississippi Farm Bureau® Federation policy supports a “VOTE AGAINST BOTH” on Initiative 42

FARMERS HELPING FEED THE WORLD

 

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