Musgrove's State Of The State Address Draws Mixed Reviews

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove urged lawmakers Wednesday to save Medicaid and other languishing programs, but promised to make sure those who bring terrorism to the Magnolia State will pay with their lives.

Musgrove's third State of the State speech to the Legislature addressed no specific programs or specific solutions to problems brought on by lagging finances. Much of those issues are expected to be discussed when Musgrove unveils his budget a week from now.

Instead, lawmakers heard high praise for Mississippians' response to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and efforts to improve health care and education.

Musgrove called on lawmakers to shore up Medicaid, a program facing a multimillion dollar deficit that could threaten care for Mississippi's needy, blind, aged and disabled.

"We're not just talking about numbers and statistics here. We're talking about our parents and our grandparents,'' he said. "Medicaid does all of this for the people of our state on only 7 percent of our budget, and with astonishingly low administrative costs of 4 percent. Medicaid is, without a doubt, the best bargain in state government.''

Attorney General Mike Moore, who is at odds with Musgrove over using earnings on Mississippi's tobacco trust fund, gave a lukewarm response to the speech. The fund was established with winnings from a tobacco lawsuit Moore filed and its earnings are earmarked for health coverage.

"The State of the State is usually _ and should be _ a speech about where we are in Mississippi and where we need to go and one of the most important issues right now is our state's budget. We've got a $150 million Medicaid deficit that needs to be addressed. The governor doesn't seem to want to address that and we need to address it,'' Moore said.

Rep. Wanda Jennings, R-Southaven, said while she thought the speech was excellent, "I would be very happy if we could do everything that he asks us to do, but my question is: `How?'''

Musgrove lauded Mississippi's response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"We must also send a message to the terrorists _ if you commit acts of terrorism on Mississippi soil, you will face the death penalty. I am preparing legislation to ensure just that,'' Musgrove said.

He saluted two Mississippians who died during the terrorist attacks.

"Joe Ferguson and Lt. Col. Jerry Don Dickerson Jr., perished that day _ one on American Flight 77, and one in the Pentagon itself. Ferguson was escorting a group of school children on a trip sponsored by the National Geographic Society. Dickerson was in uniform, serving as a member of our armed forces,'' Musgrove said.

The two men grew up in Durant and had lived two blocks apart in the tiny town of about 3,000.

"Today, we honor their memory in the presence of their families _ Ms. Barbara Harrell, the mother of Joe Ferguson, and Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Don Dickerson, Sr.,'' he said. "Ms. Harrell, Mr. and Mrs. Dickerson, we want you to know that your sons were victims of our nation's greatest tragedy, while working to make the world a safer place.

"As a state, as a nation, as a community we call Mississippi, we will never forget what your two sons did,'' Musgrove said.

He left the lectern to hug Harrell and the Dickersons, who had tears in their eyes. The governor acknowledged Mississippi's economy has suffered a blow with the loss of thousands of jobs over the past year.

"The work we do to bring jobs to Mississippi is about much more than just statistics. It is about food on the table and a warm bed at night. It is about opportunities for our children and their parents. It is about self-respect, self-confidence and a sense of security,'' Musgrove said.

Rep. Billy Broomfield, D-Moss Point, said his greatest concern was that the governor and the Legislature see to it that state agencies get the support they need to provide essential services.

"Those are the kinds of issues I thought the governor was going to deal with. However, he chose to outline where we were as opposed to where we are and how we got there and the accomplishments that have occurred under his administration, which is great and I applaud him for that, but rest assured the issues I've just described to you are issues that we must deal with,'' Broomfield said.

Rep. Dirk Dedeaux, D-Perkinston, said lawmakers will be limited by the budget on what they can accomplish.

"I think that he needs a lot of support out of the leadership and the Legislature,'' Dedeaux said. "He wants to get along with them as best that he can and so I don't think that he wanted to throw a whole lot out there that would cause legislative leaders to balk.''