Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves outlined his plans for the 2019 legislative session, mixed in with a pitch to be the state’s next governor, at the Stennis Capitol Press Forum Monday.
Reeves touted the state’s progress in K-12 education, historically low unemployment rate and increasing tax revenues while vowing that he will never, as governor, support the expansion of Medicaid, which he called Obamacare.
He also supported increasing pay for both teachers and state workers in this year’s session and promised that despite increasing revenues, most state agencies will receive the same level of funding as last year’s budget.
“For the next three months, my focus will be to finish the job I was elected to do, leading the state Senate and passing good, conservative policy,” Reeves said. “I’m proud of my record over the past seven years, because I’ve done what I promised voters I would do. Cutting taxes and finding efficiencies in state government.
“I’m not afraid to say no to my friends and I have no plans to change just because this is an election year.”
As for the state’s improving financial condition, he cited the most recent tax revenue report from the Department of Revenue. The report shows that collections for the fiscal year so far are $90.4 million or 3.52 percent over the sine die estimates. The biggest increases are in the use tax (7 percent tax that is now assessed on internet sales) which was 20.17 percent and nearly 14.98 percent increase in corporate income tax revenue.
The state’s unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in December, which still lags behind the national rate of 3.7 percent.
The two-term lieutenant governor and former state treasurer also decried the decision by the governing board of the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi from 15.75 percent of payroll to 17.4 percent.
“The request by Public Employees’ Retirement System will be funded in its entirety,” Reeves said. “Even though I am disappointed that the board broke years of precedence and made a significant request for an increase before they received the annual actuary report this year.”
Reeves said the extra taxpayer money for employer contributions to PERS could add up to between $75 million to $80 million. Taxpayers could also be paying more at the municipal and county level, as local government contributions could add up to $25 million or more.
As for the issue of a decreasing population in Mississippi, Reeves blamed the lack of a large urban area with the kind of amenities desired by millennials and the large number of out-of-state students attending the state’s two largest universities. The University of Mississippi had 41.7 percent of its enrollment from out of state, while 35 percent at Mississippi State University hail from outside the state.
Reeves did get in a shot at one of the gubernatorial candidates on the Democrat side, Attorney General Jim Hood.
“The political enemy of 2019 are the liberal ideas of (U.S. House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi, (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer and (state Attorney General) Jim Hood,” Reeves said, linking Hood rhetorically with two national Democrats with little popularity in the state.