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Secession petitions ignore state’s fiscal realities

November 25, 2012

Sid Salter
Syndicated
Columnist

There are some willing to write off the online secession petition movement that emerged after President Barack Obama was reelected as “angst” over the outcome of the election. Perhaps that’s true, but the fact is that the very notion of secession defies any true understanding of the state’s fiscal realities.

Some who signed the petition defended their actions by pointing to the “fiscal cliff” and the more ominous problems that confront the national economy — including the national debt, recurring and compounding federal budget deficits, unaddressed funding shortfalls for entitlement programs, foreign military engagements and the remaining impact of toxic real estate assets on the nation’s banking industry.

Some say the petitions are merely a form of protest protected under the First Amendment. But there are some signers who are serious in their desire to secede.

It’s misleading to point to the secession petitions and conclude that these are ideas born in the old Confederacy. Petitions have been filed on behalf of 20 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

A number of those states are reliable “blue” states and Democratic Party strongholds that Obama won handily in the election. So this movement doesn’t have a solely Southern genesis.

Yet Mississippi has a track record in secession. On Jan. 9, 1861, Mississippi seceded from the Union, stating in its official declaration that slavery is “the greatest material interest of the world.” The resulting Civil War left Mississippi all but destroyed economically, socially and politically.

But in poor states like Mississippi, the concept of secession as a rational political act of those who see it as a relief from taxation or an improvement of the state’s social or economic conditions ignore reality.

Let’s set aside the fact that so many brave Mississippians served, fought and died in defense of the U.S. and to protect American freedoms. Let’s set aside the realities of the Civil War and Reconstruction, in which Mississippi experienced what it was like to be separated from the federal government.

Let’s focus on the fact that Mississippians pay the lowest federal taxes per capita in the nation — receiving on average $2.02 more in federal spending for every $1 they pay in federal taxes.

Secession ignores the fact that most of the highway construction and maintenance in Mississippi is paid for by federal tax dollars —and that’s just the start. Defense, education, consumer safety — all the major functions of government that we take for granted — are either funded or heavily subsidized by the federal government.

Public health care and the care of the aged is a concern. Mississippi taxpayers bear only a fraction of the costs of those functions today. So in Secession Land, who bears those burdens — and what about those who can’t? What about wealth, now defined by U.S. dollars? What about currency?

What about the next time a hurricane like Katrina slams the state? Are we going to self-fund that clean up and recovery out of our collective hip pockets?

Secession petitions are a dangerous, ill-conceived response to an election hangover. For Mississippians, such petitions ignore our status as a state that has taken far more from the federal government in terms of resources that we’ve given back per capita for decades.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 662-325-2506 or ssalter@library.msstate.edu.

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