Next year is an election year for everyone in state government, which means decisions will skew even more than usual toward what’s politically popular. What’s good politics, however, is not always what’s best for the state.
Consider the current rumblings of a tax cut to be considered in the 2015 legislative session. The state’s top three leaders – Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn – all appear to be jockeying for position in advocating what Reeves calls “a raise for taxpayers.”
It’s got a good political ring to it, especially if you can hear the footsteps of a Tea Party primary challenger behind you, as both Bryant and Reeves are no doubt contemplating. It’s a surefire way to solidify your conservative bonafides and seize the momentum from anyone coming at you from the right.
But there are many fiscal conservatives who also realize that Mississippi has many unmet and underfunded needs and who know that now is not the time for the state to reduce its revenues.
The state revenue picture finally has begun to improve after several down years following the recession, including two years in which revenue not only didn’t grow but actually was less than the previous year, historically an extremely rare occurrence. During these years K-12 education has been underfunded hundreds of millions of dollars in violation of the formula set out in state law. Universities and community colleges have sustained cuts from which they haven’t yet recovered. The state’s highways, bridges and infrastructure are in dire need of repairs, a situation that will only get worse with time.
These areas are the foundation of any progress the state hopes to make, and it’s time to shore them up, not reduce the state’s ability to make the investments that will pay off in an improved economy for everyone in the future.
If it could be demonstrated that a state tax cut would unleash such a burst of economic activity that it would actually produce more revenue in the long run, there might be an argument for it. But any state tax cut is highly unlikely to have such an impact.
If Mississippians’ overall tax burden were especially burdensome, there might be justification for a tax cut, but it’s not.
What we’re left with is making voters happy, and that’s an easy thing to do by cutting taxes. But easy is not the same thing as prudent and responsible.
Shoring up vital state services in the wake of an improving revenue picture should be the Legislature’s goal in 2015. It might not be the best way for politicians to fend off Republican primary challengers, but it’s clearly in the state’s best long-term interests.