By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
PHILADELPHIA – No one spoke of tax cuts from the historic Founders Square pavilion stage during the opening day of the Neshoba County Fair political speeches, but the fact that tax cuts will be an issue during the 2015 legislative session still bubbled to the surface.
After his speech Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, in response to questions from the media, revealed a tax cut might be taken up during the 2015 session.
The Republican Reeves was the final speaker Wednesday during the first of two days of political speeches that draw statewide media and political observers.
Talking to the media behind the Founders Square Pavilion after his speech, Reeves said in recent years the House has proposed pay raises for various state and local officials.
“We think it is time to look at a pay raise for taxpayers,” said Reeves, referring to a possible tax cut.
He did not reveal any other details.
“We have done a lot of work on it, but we are not ready to release any specifics,” said the first-term lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate.
And hours after Reeves’ speech, Gov. Phil Bryant, who speaks today at the Fair, unveiled a letter he sent to Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn earlier this month advocating consideration of tax cuts during the 2015 session, which will be an election year.
“I believe it is time for us to provide significant tax relief to our citizens,” Bryant wrote to Gunn and Reeves.
During his speech Wednesday, Reeves touted the fact that the state now has a rainy day fund of more than $400 million, and revenue growth of between $150 million and $250 million annually is expected in the coming years.
But others are touting the fact that with state revenue and the budget rebounding from the problems caused by the 2008 recession, it is time to look at enhanced education funding. Kindergarten through 12th grade education has been underfunded by about $1.5 billion since 2008.
During his speech, Attorney General Jim Hood, Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democratic official, said a refocus needs to be placed on education.
“We have to renew our commitment to education that we have kind of strayed from,” he said.
Hood, making reference to the bare-knuckled Republican primary for U.S. Senate between incumbent Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, said, “We need a higher level of political discourse in this state.”
Reeves also made reference to the bruising Republican primary.
Education, Reeves said, has been a focus of the Legislature and said thanks to a pay raise passed in the 2014 session, by July 2015, Mississippi will have the third-best starting salary for teachers among the Southern states.
“Mississippi is now a leader and not a laggard in teacher pay,” he said.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney and Auditor Stacey Pickering also spoke Wednesday. Both touted the accomplishments of their offices.
Pickering said his office received high marks for monitoring the expenditure of federal money the state received after Hurricane Katrina and from the stimulus package and from the BP offshore drilling explosion. He said thanks to such efforts he is receiving the prestigious David M. Walker Excellence in Government Performance and Accountability Award.
“Mississippi has a good track record of accountability and a good track record of transparency in managing your taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Chaney confirmed to the Neshoba County Fair crowd he would seek a third term as insurance commissioner in 2015.
He also said his agency has been successful in reducing the number of fire deaths in the state, thanks to outreach and education efforts and to a program where 52,000 fire alarms have been installed free of charge statewide.
He said his office has purchased 22 innovative glove devices that can help lower body temperature. He said those devices, which the German soccer team recently used in capturing the World Cup, will be disbursed to fire departments across the state.
“I try to do what I was elected to do, not to run for another office,” he said.
Hood said he recently was elected as head of the National Attorneys General Association and will hold a conference in Mississippi to focus on intellectual property theft.
A respectable crowd attended the opening day of political speeches, with people listening from around and underneath the tin-roof pavilion and from the front porches of the cabins that surround Founders Square.
A larger crowd is expected today as Bryant and the U.S. Senate candidates Cochran and Democrat Travis Childers speak. The crowds might be buoyed by unusually moderate temperatures – a break from the typical scorching weather at the annual event.