By Bobby Harrison | NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
First-term House District 21 Rep. Donnie Bell, D-Fulton, is being challenged by Republican Deborah Tierce of Fulton, who said she is running because she does not believe her opponent “reflects the values” of the district.
Tierce, 51, a motivational speaker who also does leadership skills training, said Bell is too liberal for the conservative-leaning district.
“I am extremely conservative when it comes to moral issues,” she said. She said she opposes the current “welfare state,” because it “decreases self-worth.”
Bell, 48, said he also is a social conservative and his House voting record reflects that. He added he has voted for and helped pass balanced budgets each year and has voted to fully fund public education or to fund it at the highest level possible.
Bell, who works for a hospice in quality control and marketing, said his goal will be to move up on the priority list construction of a four-laned state Highway 25 through Smithville, which was ravaged by a tornado this past spring.
“We need to make every effort to help the town of Smithville rebuild,” Bell said. “The highway is a very important part of that step.”
Tierce said she will fight to lower taxes, particularly the tax on business inventory. The inventory tax is levied by local governments, and city and county officials have said that unless the state makes up the difference, if the tax is eliminated, they would have to raise taxes on property owners.
Tierce said she believes the economic growth spurred by the elimination of the inventory tax and by reducing other taxes would offset the revenue lost by the tax cuts.
Tierce said she believes there is enough money in the education system, but that “we need to get more money into the classrooms.”
Both pledged to protect the Public Employees’ Retirement System.
“A card laid is a card played,” Tierce said of the retirement system. She said the benefits of retirees shouldn’t be tampered with “but if you have to make it solvent, you have to do something to make that happen.”
Bell said he would consider minor changes, but opposes changing the makeup of the PERS’ governing board, which consists of a majority elected by people in the system. He also opposes making changes to the annual 3 percent cost of living increase retirees receive.
“The rumor is some people want to turn it over to a group of investors and make direct contributions like a 401(k). I will not support that either,” he said.
He would oppose moving state employees out from under Personnel Board – a type of civil service protection.
Of the Personnel Board issue, Tierce said, “I don’t know. I don’t want to commit to that.”
The race has had some controversy. It was revealed by state Democratic Party Chair Rickey Cole for two years Tierce was receiving homestead exemption tax breaks on residences in both Itawamba and Lee counties. A homeowner is supposed to receive the tax break only on a primary residence. After Cole revealed the dual homestead exemption filings, Tierce repaid Lee County $1,751 in property taxes.
“It was an honest mistake,” she said. “We were not trying to break the law and double dip.”