As the state budget works its way through the Legislature, the news is not good for Mississippi taxpayers. As things stand, we risk losing our best teachers and state workers, all the while giving hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to everyone from shopping centers to multistate corporations.
A productive workforce is key to any government, just as it is to any business. We pay tax dollars to care for those with severe mental and physical conditions. We pay law enforcement officers and operate prisons to keep us safe. We expect the Health Department to protect us from disease and to see that our drinking water is safe. We pay tax dollars to educate our children. All of these things require good, hard-working people.
If wages aren’t competitive, our best workers and teachers will leave for better-paying jobs. Over the past seven years, take-home pay for teachers and state employees has gone down. Deductions for state insurance and retirement have increased, while pay scales have remained the same. As the economy improves, our best teachers and state employees have other job opportunities, and they will begin taking them.
Meanwhile, in violation of state law, the Legislature has failed to fund the adequate education program, the basic formula which schools need to provide a basic education. That has resulted in larger class sizes, cancellation of courses, fewer extra-curricular activities, and other cutbacks.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Democrats in the state Senate have a plan to increase salaries by an average of $5,000 over three years for all teachers, state employees, and community college and university employees. We would also return to fully funding the adequate education formula over three years. The money is there to do this, without a tax increase.
We would fund one-fifth of the MAEP gap and raise salaries $1,000 across the board raises in the first year, at a total cost of less than $150 million. We could add that amount to the current budget, and still take in more recurring revenue than we would spend on recurring expenses. It would leave more than half a billion dollars in reserves.
We have made this proposal, which we consider quite fiscally conservative, in an effort to garner Republican support. We know we are in the minority in the Legislature, but we also know some Republicans disagree with the misguided priorities in the current budget. We’re interested in results, so we continue to work with our Republican friends to build support for our proposal.
The stakes are high. The two budget proposals are in sharp contrast. Do we want to funnel state funds to developers of shopping centers, or do we want to educate our children and keep the good state employees we all need? Do we want to cut taxes for multistate corporations, or do we want to follow state law and properly fund our local school districts?
The Democrats in the state senate think we have a good plan. We need your support.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, represents District 7. Contact him at P. O. Box 75, Amory, MS 38821.