Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood wants to roll back the tax cuts passed by the legislature, but fell just short of advocating for a gasoline tax increase to fund infrastructure.
The four-term Democrat Attorney General is running for governor in 2019 and made his remarks at the Stennis Capitol Press Forum Monday.
Hood wants more spending for infrastructure, citing a 2015 report by the Mississippi Economic Council that says taxpayers need to spend $375 million more per year on roads and bridges. He says how it’s funded depends on who gets elected to the legislature.
“I think if we have the same folks back (in the legislature), with a little bit of leadership, we present them with the opportunity to fund the road bill, you’re going to see the pressure on by the voters this next election cycle to figure out a way that we’re able to pay for our roads,” Hood said.
“A fuel tax is one of the considerations. There are a ton of trucks that go through right here on (Interstates) 55 and 20 every day coming from out of state. They’re paying tax on that fuel, it isn’t Mississippians are necessarily paying, but they’re paying a lot less than Louisiana or Alabama or Tennessee. Those are some things we have to consider, but I don’t know if that (a gasoline tax increase) is the answer to fix it.”
Mississippi’s tax on diesel is 18 cents per gallon. Tennessee charges 24 cents in tax per gallon of diesel, while Louisiana’s diesel fuel tax is 20 cents per gallon and Alabama’s is 19 cents per gallon.
He also said that the majority of the $400 million tax cut passed by the Legislature that eliminated one income tax bracket and started the phase out of the state’s corporate franchise tax goes to out-of-state corporations.
Hood also said he favors more spending on education, including free tuition for community college students, and expanding Medicaid.
He said expanding Medicaid would require legislative action in the form of appropriations, since the federal government would cover 90 percent of the cost while state taxpayers would be responsible for the rest.
“The votes are there if you go about it by explaining to people you can expand Medicaid without raising taxes,” Hood said. “The other states that have expanded Medicaid have put fees on hospital beds and the hospitals have gotten the money back, they’ve done some on sin taxes. There are avenues to do it.”
Expanding Medicaid, according to a 2015 study by the Institutes of Higher Education, would cost more than $117 million in general fund revenue in 2020 in a worst case scenario (with 95 percent enrollment).
That worse-case scenario cost would increase to $159.1 million by 2025.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said earlier this year at the Stennis luncheon that he doesn’t support expanding Medicaid, which he called Obamacare.
Hood also strongly supports allowing retirees in the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi to be able to collect their benefits while in office. A November opinion by his office says that the PERS regulation prohibited elected officeholders in state government, such as legislators, from continuing to be paid their retirement benefits has no basis in state law.
According to PERS regulations, a re-employed retiree will have their benefits terminated and become again a contributing member with contributions paid by both the employer (taxpayers) and the employee. This doesn’t apply to county and municipal elected officials.
“People can run that are retirees,” Hood said. “The legislature could’ve changed that, but they were too cowardly and ran when the light hit them on that.
“It’s time for us to put people in that legislature that know something about education, that know something about law enforcement, that know something about mental health, that know something that affect people in our state instead of those that are super partisan.”