BOBBY HARRISON: Bryant will hear about a few issues

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – As stated many times, Republican Phil Bryant is the heavy favorite to capture the governor’s office during the Nov. 8 general election.
Still, Bryant, the incumbent lieutenant governor, has a record. It is a record that he has said time and again during the campaign that he is proud of, but there are aspects of it that could prove difficult for him to defend.
The trick is that Bryant, like all Republican candidates in Mississippi, will have a huge fund-raising advantage, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the Democrats to get their message out on a statewide basis.
But here are a few issues that could make the fall at least a little difficult for the presumptive governor-elect.
RETIREMENT SYSTEM
Others have written about the fact that there is concern by some that the Republicans might want to make dramatic changes to the Public Employee Retirement System.
The fact is the system, like most defined retirement plans across the country, has some issues that will take additional money or a change in benefits to fix.
Over time that needs to be addressed, most all agree.
But the smoking gun that could cause Bryant some problems is a proposal drafted and passed in the Senate by Appropriations Chair Doug Davis, R-Hernando. The proposal was rejected by the House. But if it had passed, the proposal would have put the whole system in jeopardy, according to Pat Robertson, executive director of the Public Employee Retirement System.
While there is debate about whether the Davis proposal was even constitutional, its intent was that the state would stop paying benefits to about 85,000 retirees if the board that oversees the system increased the amount of money taxpayers contributed to the system to keep it solvent.
The board has the authority to increase the amount paid by the state and local governments that contribute to the system.
Davis said his intent was only to draw attention to the need to make changes to the system. Bryant distanced himself from the Davis proposal as it became more controversial. But the fact is that Davis was appointed to the powerful post of Appropriations chair by Bryant, and the lieutenant governor did nothing to oppose the legislation as it worked its way through the Senate.
About 165,000 state employees, county and city workers, including police officers and firefighters, and school personnel are in the system. Trust me, they are concerned about what happens to the system.
TAX HIKE
Bryant touts his record as a tax cutter. But he was an outspoken advocate during the past term of increasing the tax on hospitals.
Bryant, Gov. Haley Barbour and others argued the hospitals were not losing money because the tax would be used to pull down federal Medicaid funds at roughly a 4 to 1 match to provide additional money to the hospitals.
But the Mississippi Hospital Association actively opposed the tax and said part of its costs would be passed on to patients.
IMMIGRATION
Now this may be a surprising one since Bryant has been the state’s champion of efforts to fight illegal immigration.
Bryant’s Senate passed the so-called Arizona law that would mandate local and state law enforcement check for immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally if they were stopped for another reason. The bill also had a provision that local governments disliked because they feared it would allow them to be sued if someone thought their law officers were not adequately enforcing immigration law.
The House passed a proposal that also mandated local law enforcement to check for immigration status. But the House took out the language allowing local governments to be sued and added language that would allow companies that hire illegal immigrants to be sued and fined.
The Senate leaders did not like the provision penalizing companies and said it was a violation of federal law. It is of note that Bryant had no problem taking the federal government to court over whether local law enforcement could enforce immigration law but did not want to challenge in the courts whether the federal government could stop states from punishing companies that violate immigration law.
Of course, the country would not have an issue with illegal immigrants if not for companies giving them a reason to want to come here.
Will those issues defeat Bryant?
Probably not, but don’t be surprised if they get a lot of attention in the coming months.
BOBBY HARRISON is Capitol Bureau chief for the Daily Journal in Jackson. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.