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Sunday, Feb. 10, 2002

By Staff
Amtrak does excellent job, needs more money
To the editor:
Regarding the renewed brouhaha about Amtrak funding: Can you tell me why it is that this country can spend untold millions of dollars bailing out an airline industry that was already swirling around the bowl before 9/11 and highway mass transportation that uses public infrastructure? But when we need to support the most energy-efficient means of mass transportation, our politicians, and even you in the media, act like this was going to break this country financially.
The points of fact are (1) if the bus companies and the airlines had to operate under the same constraints as national passenger rail, they would have long since gone under, and (2) if moving people in trains was a high margin proposition, the freight railroads would still be in the business.
Amtrak has done an excellent job managing national passenger rail service. Their pricing structure, equipment utilization, scheduling and advertisements are judiciously maintained. They do a far better job than anyone the airline industry without exception.
Are we going to reward the progress they have made by pulling the rug out from under them? I would think that not even a politician could be that stupid.
Bill Lowe
Meridian
Dangerous road at Okatibbee Lake needs attention
To the editor:
This is in response to the article about the youth who ran off in Okatibbee Lake on Wednesday. I, too, have had a daughter who ran off into the lake in late July of 2001. This particular spot has had numerous traffic accidents. Now, speed could cause some of them, but not all, because the cars are going off at the exact same place.
My question is why do we not have the metal rails running along this part of the lake? The rails have been added to the upper part of the lake, but not to this part.
How many times do accidents have to happen before this gets done? And I would like to remind parents of students at West Lauderdale that school buses cross this part of the lake and you will never get those children out if a bus goes off into the water.
Does a person have to die before our county supervisors tend to this?
Sandy Gardner
Collinsville
Don't bust' the trust fund
To the editor:
Bills to bail out the state's Medicaid budget with the tobacco trust fund are moving swiftly through the Legislature, despite the protests of the public, the press and many organizations, including ours. When the trust fund was established, our lawmakers and their constituents boasted to the rest of the nation that Mississippi did the right thing.
Now, it appears that with each passing day of the session, we're sliding into the same black hole as the rest of the states that have squandered the tobacco settlement monies. There's still time to turn back before we start bleeding off this fund. How?
Let's take the approach that there is no trust fund. Ignore it. Let it do what it is designed to do  earn enough interest to endow many health care needs in the future. Imagine being able to spend millions on prevention and early intervention of the top four chronic illnesses that kill Mississippians  cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and lung disease. Theses four diseases cause 72 percent of all deaths in Mississippi and cost $3.7 billion to treat annually. The trust fund is the only opportunity on the horizon to reduce these numbers.
Pretend we have no trust fund. Without it, we would have two choices.
First, we'd make the necessary changes to the Medicaid program after we do a complete review of everything on the books for Medicaid. Last August, our lawmakers received a recommendation based on a study of our Medicaid program that included implementing targeted disease management and targeted case management. A full review would provide us with plenty of information to make the right decisions about making our Medicaid a leaner and more effective program. Making cuts without this information in hand is irresponsible and can put us in the same boat as before.
Second, it's time to talk about taxes. While we're not in the business of advocating tax increases, there is one tax that we think lawmakers should strongly consider. The excise tax on cigarettes hasn't been raised since 1985. It is 18 cents per pack, placing Mississippi 39th in the nation. The U.S. average of 45 cents per pack is rising steadily.
In every case where the price of cigarettes was increased, there has been a significant decline in the number of children and low-income adult smokers. Economists project that by raising the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 50 cents in Mississippi, we will gain an additional $124.9 million in tax revenue each year, but we'll also reduce the number of youth smokers by 18,300 and adults by 15,100 within five years.
The long-term health benefits are obvious: less lung cancer and chronic lung disease, less childhood respiratory infections and asthma, less heart disease and stroke, fewer lower birth weight and stillborn babies. The list goes on.
Seventeen other states are strongly considering raising this tax as a way to deal with their own Medicaid and budget shortfalls. And several other states have recently raised their tax significantly, with the same results  fewer smokers and more revenue.
Over 75 percent of Mississippi adults don't smoke and this tax wouldn't affect them at all. According to a study released last week by MSU's Social Science Research Center, the majority of Mississippi adults support an increase in tobacco excise tax, particularly if the money goes to education, prevention and cessation programs.
It's not too late to turn back from busting the trust fund. There are other alternatives on the table.
Elizabeth Barber
American Lung Association
of Mississippi
Executive Director
Pam Dotson
American Cancer Society,
Mid South Division
Vice President of Cancer Control
Samantha Heard
American Heart Association
Mississippi Advocacy Manager

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