By Errol Castens
OXFORD – Lafayette County’s state legislators say some of the fights at the Capitol this year will be over where to direct a little extra money.
“We’re going to be in a much better situation, budget-wise, than we have been for four or five years,” Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said at the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Eggs & Issues” breakfast at the Oxford Conference Center on Monday.
He said 2013 saw a gain of 589 jobs in Lafayette County over 2012, while the state as a whole gained 18,818 jobs.
Tollison said education will be, as always, a major issue, noting his support for both early childhood education initiatives and the Common Core standards.
“When you’re 51st, you have no place to go but up,” he said.
He also noted a host of state-funded road and bridge work in various stages in Lafayette County, including the $27 million being built over the Tallahatchie River on Highway 7.
Reps. Nolan Mettetal, R-Batesville, Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, Brad Mayo, R-Oxford, and Steve Massengill, R-Hickory Flat, also spoke at the event.
Reynolds supported the funding of a Highway Patrol cadet class this year and predicted that teacher pay raises may stand their best chance in years.
“You’ve got to have good teachers,” he said. “We live in an economy where young (teachers) move around, where they can go to the state of Georgia and make $10,000 a year more. There is in the House a broad consensus for looking at teacher pay.”
Mettetal said a projected 2.7 percent budget increase for FY 2014-15 will offer relief to some agencies, such as universities and community colleges, which have been cut in recent years. He noted a need for a change in open records laws that would better protect state universities’ intellectual properties from usurpers.
Mettetal also championed several specific penal reforms such as “true minimum” sentencing, defining violent offenders and focusing more efforts on high-level drug traffickers.
Massengill said he hopes to trim at least one bothersome state regulatory program in 2014.
“Hopefully, this year the Senate is going to have a bill to do away with inspection stickers,” he said.
Mayo said last year’s charter school bus has drawn two applications for charter schools to open in Jackson – including one that will focus on science.
In answer to an audience question, Mayo said the state needs more money for highway maintenance but did not voice support for a higher highway fuel tax.
“Mississippians travel farther to work than people in any other state,” he said. “That will very much hit your working poor.”