PERRY/Reeves outlines 2013 agenda
Wednesday, January 9, 2013 12:00 AM
Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves told the Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon his focus this legislative session would be a cautious and conservative budget, eliminating the accelerated tax on small businesses and education reform.
"Our number one priority in Mississippi has to be job creation. But I have a political philosophy that says government doesn't create jobs, it creates an environment for the private sector to create jobs," Reeves told the group at the Capital Club in Jackson on Monday.
Reeves noted successes last session phased out the inventory tax so Mississippi can compete with other states, and enacted workers compensation reform to provide a level playing field for employers and employees.
Last session, the House and Senate could not agree on a bond bill and Reeves remarked it is the first time in many observers' memories that no bonds were passed. He said he campaigned on bringing down the state's bond debt and he remains serious about keeping that commitment. "I'm going to take the same approach in the 2013 session as I took in the 2012 session," he said. He wants short term maintenance projects to be funded through appropriations, as well as spending like the local roads and bridges program. He doesn't want to finance a three to seven year project over twenty years. "I'm willing to do no bond bill if it doesn't meet [my] criteria," he affirmed.
Reeves said he opposed Obamacare and had hoped congress would not pass it; then hoped the Supreme Court would strike it down; then hoped Mitt Romney would win the Presidency. He said "unfortunately for the good guys" none of those three happened. He said government must now decide how best to deal with the law of the land.
Reeves will once again take aim at reducing the $468 million revolving loan fund the state uses for incentives to attract business. "I do not believe the Mississippi Development Authority should have $468 million at their disposal to fund any project they want [without legislative oversight]." He supports infrastructure investment and workforce development funding but wants more caution on providing other incentives without legislative approval.
"Anytime you talk about job creation and bringing more and better jobs to the state, we must discuss education," Reeves said calling the education reforms last session a good start but insisting there is more to do.
Last year the state changed the nomenclature of school ratings from a description to a grade level (now "successful" is a "C"). He said that had immediate reactions and noted the mayors of Canton and Moss Point called town hall meetings to discuss the state of their schools as a result. Reeves' education reforms are modeled on Florida where the state moved from about 650 A-B schools and 650 D-F schools in twelve years to 2100 A-B schools and fewer than 150 D-F schools.
"Raise expectations on teachers and administrators and parents and most importantly students and people will rise up and meet those expectations," he said.
Reeves said the first step in school consolidations taken last year reduced districts from 152 to 147 by consolidating Sunflower County schools from three districts to one; and Bolivar County schools from six districts to three - saving $3 million which can be reinvested in their schools or returned to taxpayers. Reeves also wants to expand school choice options in Mississippi.
Reeves wants to end social promotion in schools and noted only 53 percent of Mississippi students in third grade are proficient at their grade level and this must change to decrease drop-out rates and improve later school performance. This plan would be phased in over two years or less.
While Reeves personally supports expansion of pre-K, he said the state does not have sufficient resources ($300-$350 million) to implement a fourteenth grade, but it is a goal he says we should work toward.
This session Reeves wants a strong public charter schools bill. He said some people believe we should only allow public charter schools where they are most needed. He said he agrees, but he believes the parents should decide where they are needed. Prohibiting charter schools in B and C graded districts still traps 45,000 students in D and F graded schools which are located inside those districts.
Reeves wants to end the practice of elected school superintendents and noted that of the fewer than 150 elected superintendents in the country, more than half are in Mississippi. Legislation to end that practice passed the Senate last year, is supported by the Mississippi Economic Council, and will likely be passed again this year and sent to the House once again, Reeves said. Reeves mentioned that Senate bills that were not acted on by the House last session are likely to be among the first to be considered again this year.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at email@example.com or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.