August 22, 2014 10:36:28 AM
At last month's Neshoba County Fair, Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves wowed the crowd by saying, "We think it's time to look at a pay raise for taxpayers."
Reeves, who will likely bid to shorten his official title by removing the word "Lieutenant" in the 2015 governor's race, was quickly joined by others with similar aspirations, including current governor Phil Bryant and state Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn, in the call for a tax cut. Expect to see that legislation when the legislature convenes in January.
Reeves was in Columbus Tuesday to speak to the Exchange Club. Although he only alluded to the tax cut during his speech, he did address the subject in a brief interview with The Dispatch before the luncheon.
"At this point, I'm not committed to any specific (type of) reduction," Reeves said. "We have done an awful lot of research to see how our tax code in Mississippi compares to other states. But even so, the plan we pursue has to work for what's best for the taxpayers here."
As Mississippi continues to recover from the 2008 recession, state revenues have climbed. The state has replenished its "rainy day" fund to $409 million and Reeves said revenues should increase over the next year anywhere from $150 million to $200 million.
But while the idea of any form of a tax cut is popular, we wonder if it is wise, especially given the fact that, historically, Mississippi's tax rates are among the lowest in the nation and remain so today.
There are two efforts currently being pursued to require the state to live up the promises of adequately funding K-12 education enacted in 1997. One is a lawsuit led by former governor Ronnie Musgrove. The other is a petition movement led by the group Better Schools, Better Jobs, which will try to force the matter onto the ballot this November.
Reeves, however, says he believes the state can increase K-12 funding while still cutting taxes.
"We want to continue to increase funding, but we want to focus on reform, too," he said. "Our schools need to be run efficiently and we've seen many examples all over the state where districts are not spending the taxpayers' money wisely."
Of course there is a difference between " increasing funding" and providing the kind of funding mandated by law through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, enacted in 1997 but achieved only twice since. Over the past 10 years, K-12 education has been under-funded by $1.5 billion, according to the MAEP formula. The recent efforts to increase school funding Reeves so proudly touts fall far short from the funding levels mandated by law.
Tax cuts are alluring, we realize. But given the state's need for more school funding, both at the K-12 and university levels, along with an increasing health care crisis (the uninsured rate for Mississippians has increased by 3.34 percent to 21.46 percent of the state's population) there are areas where that extra revenue might be better spent.
When it comes to deciding what to do with increased state revenue, addressing these chronic problems may be the wise choice for the long-term benefit of all Mississippians, although it will not the popular choice.
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