Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said that he intends to prioritize both a rewrite of the state's K-12 education funding formula and an expansion of the state's education savings account program in this year's session, which started last week.
Reeves made the remarks before the Stennis Capitol Press Forum Monday, where he also talked about issues such as the state's shrinking population, economic issues and defended the tax cut passed last session as beneficial in the future to the state's economy.
When asked about whether he'd prioritize the funding formula rewrite or the ESA program, now only open to parents of children with special needs, Reeves said simply "both." The Legislature hired EdBuild, a New Jersey-based non-profit, to create a more student-based formula than the existing Mississippi Adequate Education Program, but no bill was forthcoming last year.
Reeves said bringing the same quality education that children in Madison County enjoy to the entire state is one of his top policy goals.
"While every kid in the Madison County (school) district has an opportunity for success, not every kid in Mississippi has the fortune of growing up in the Madison County Public School District. It's the reason why I've continued to work to support educational freedom to give more parents more options to do what's best for their kid.
"All of our educational policy initiatives have been derived from one simple belief. That belief is it should not matter what a kid's zip code is nor should it matter what a kid's mom and dad do or don't do for a living. Every kid in our state deserves an opportunity for success."
Reeves cautioned against placing too much reliance on year-to-year U.S. Census Bureau data, which he compared to looking at one month of state revenues and trying to determine a trend. He also said Mississippi is a disadvantage when it comes to luring millennials — who tend to want to live in cities — since the state only has one metropolitan area, Jackson.
"When we're looking at population trends and shifts, we recognize the need that our public policy goals are structured in a way that we see improvements in our capitol city," Reeves said. "I think it's important for the vitality of our state for us to have a growing, downtown Jackson and that's one of the reasons I was supportive of the Capitol City Improvement District, which will allow the state to partner with Jackson to see a revitalization in downtown."
The bill was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant and will divert 12 1/2 percent of Jackson's total sales tax revenues to infrastructure projects within the district's boundaries starting this summer. Reeves also attacked the narrative that Mississippi's economy was flagging.
He cited the state's historical low 4.8 percent unemployment rate and more than 40,000 jobs available on the state's jobs website, Mississippi Jobs, as evidence that the state's economy was improving.
He also talked about the improved data in the state's December revenue report, which is the midway point of the fiscal year that ends June 1. Total collections in December increased by $20 million over estimates and are up $43 million so far this fiscal year.
He also vigorously defended the tax cut package he championed last year. The $415 million tax cut will bring relief to individuals and businesses by eliminating the state’s corporate franchise tax over a 10-year span, erasing the state’s 3 percent income tax bracket over four years and allowing self-employed Mississippians to deduct up to half of their federal self-employment taxes by 2019.
The corporate franchise tax was assessed at a rate of $2.50 per $1,000 of capital or property, whichever is greater and was often described as a "tax on breathing" since it's paid every year, regardless of profits.
"Any attempt to repeal the tax cuts or delay them is, to the extent I have any influence in the Mississippi Senate, dead on arrival in that chamber," Reeves said.
Reeves said there will likely be no further tax reductions in this year's session since he thinks the Mississippi House has little appetite for it.