By Tate Reeves
This weekend marked the beginning of a new fiscal year, and Mississippians will see many new laws take effect to reduce government spending, cut taxes on job creators, improve education and protect families.
The Mississippi Legislature concluded a successful session this spring with the adoption of a $5.5 billion budget – on time, no less – that set aside money in savings, reduced taxpayers’ debt burden and prioritized education funding, including increases in the Mississippi Adequate Education program and community colleges. Agencies began spending the new budget July 1, the start of the fiscal year.
A moratorium on new car purchases was one key effort approved by the Legislature to limit new spending. No new state cars will be purchased this year, though law enforcement is exempted as needed. This will result in roughly $12 million in savings next year and will reduce the state’s fleet by 2 percent annually over a three-year period. Taxpayers own almost 7,500 vehicles – the equivalent of one vehicle for every four state employees.
The Legislature took an important initial step to reduce taxpayers’ debt burden by not having a “bond bill” for the first time in anyone’s memory. Now is the time for the state to stop charging the taxpayers’ credit card for recurring expenses. After many years of unsuccessful efforts, the Legislature cut taxes on Mississippi’s small businesses by eliminating the inventory tax, creating an environment for more investment and more jobs.
The Legislature also moved forward with reforms to the state’s education system. The Department of Education will implement a new rating system for school districts to clarify schools’ performance. In an effort to make ratings simple and more transparent, the Legislature changed the grading system to A, B, C, D and F.
The Department of Education also is working to consolidate administrative functions of three struggling districts in Sunflower County into one school district and six districts in Bolivar County into three school districts. This effort will save more than $2 million total that can be better used in the classroom.
Several measures to make Mississippi a safer place for children will take effect as well. The Child Protection Act requires health care professionals, members of the clergy, educators, child care providers and law enforcement to report cases of suspected child abuse. This law will help protect children from horrendous crimes and help law enforcement bring abusers to justice. Another new law requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The Department of Health is implementing this new policy that may result in the closure of the state’s only abortion clinic.
Members of the Legislature are already looking for ways to keep Mississippi moving forward in the next legislative session. We can continue to find savings throughout state government and spend tax dollars more effectively. Also, we cannot stop our push to improve the quality of Mississippi’s public schools and encourage more students to pursue a degree from a community college or university. Increasing the education attainment level of our citizens is the best and quickest way to economic recovery and prosperity.
I will continue to call for controlled spending in the next fiscal year. While tax collections over the past year exceeded estimates, the state’s economist predicts the economy will not return to pre-recession levels until 2015 or 2016. We should focus on building strong financial footing in these tough economic times. This session, Gov. Bryant, Speaker Gunn and I worked together to implement sound policy that will help Mississippi businesses grow and make the state a better place to raise a family. We will continue to fight for smart, conservative legislation to move Mississippi forward.
To contact Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, call (601) 359-3200, or write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1018, Jackson, MS, 39215.