Lt. Governor Tate Reeves addressed individuals present for the first annual Stennis Luncheon of the 2019 Legislative Session. He began with sharing a New Year’s resolution he made for himself, too have a better relationship with the press this year, “even better than we’ve had before.”
“For those of you in the press, I look forward to 2019 to all of your stories on how our tax cuts and investments in workforce training have attracted jobs to Mississippi leading to our lowest unemployment rates in our state’s history,” spoke Reeves with a tinge of sarcasm.
Reeves said while he is looking forward to getting back to the campaign trail, his focus for the next three months will be leading the state Senate and passing good conservative public policy.
“I am proud of my record over the last seven years, by cutting taxes and finding efficiencies in state government,” said Reeves.
He said he plans to continue to work closely with Governor Bryant who is scheduled to make his final State of the State address on Tuesday. He expects to hear proposals like building on criminal justice reform and strengthening school safety. While the state has made efforts since the shooting at Sandy Hook in 2012, he expects to see more recommendations make it to Gov. Bryant’s desk this year.
“Just like every other year, crafting the state budget will be a major task for our Appropriation Committees, but unlike many years in the past, this year we are likely to be doing it with the revenue increases significantly outpacing expectations,” said Reeves. Just six months into the current fiscal year revenues are up 3.32% or 85.5 million over last year. and 3.52% or 90.4 million over Sine Die estimates.
Also on the table for session this year, the Lt. Governor said if Legislature could commit to the teacher pay raise the Governor proposed in his yearly budget proposal. Under that plan, teachers would make $8,000 more, yearly, than they did the year he became Lt. Governor (eight years ago). This raise does not include special incentive programs already in place.
“There is also this year, a discussion about giving state employees a pay raise. I believe we are in a significantly better position to do that today than we were eight years ago,” said Reeves. There are 26,357 state employees who Reeves said work hard everyday and sometimes do their jobs at wages that are less than ideal and deserving of a pay increase. He said he looks forward to working with Speaker Gunn to award those dedicated public servants with a raise.
He did not hesitate to praise President Trump’s tax cuts, which are very similar to those passed in Mississippi, to which he says have put money in the pockets of Mississippi tax payers so they can invest in small businesses.
Reeves said conservatives believe you do not grow taxes to grow revenue.
“I firmly believe that tax payers know better how to spend their money than any bureaucrat in Jackson ever will, and I remain against raising anybody’s taxes,” said Reeves. He also said he will remain opposed to any call for ObamaCare expansion regardless of the name or form it is given.
Reeves said the NFIB has taken the ‘temperature’ of how ‘Main Street’ feels about our current economic condition. Right now, there are record levels of optimism from businesses expecting record sales this year while increasing their number of employees and investment in their companies. Priorities of those businesses have changed, they are not concerned with taxes and regulations because they have been cut due to the current administration. Now, those businesses are focused more on finding a suitable workforce.
He said there is no question, policy makers must continually update how they train workers for jobs. Legislature has supported millions of dollars for workforce training opportunities and districts with dual credit programming. From early learning to high school and higher education the need is great for programs to show students a path is growing.
“By the time my term ends, I believe we will spend over $100 million more on public education than we did the year I was elected,” said Reeves. “We’ve increased funding from FY13 to FY19 we have increased funding by over 10.11% in General Fund dollars compared to the 10.06% overall growth in the state support budget.”
Those investments have gone to things like reading coaches and targeted investments in teacher pay to address the teacher shortage. However, he says these investments alone will not raise test scores but are also raising expectations.
“When you get out in the real world and out of the bubble of the Capitol, people are excited about what is going on in their school,” said Reeves.
The National Assessment of Education Progress came out with the nations “progress report” and it was good news for Mississippi. Over the last 10 years the state has ranked 12th in the nation for gains in 8th grade reading, 7th in 8th grade math, 4th in gains for 4th grade math and 2nd in the nation for gains in 4th grade reading.
Reeves cites significant improvement of reading proficiency attributable to the passage of the 3rd grade reading gate. High school graduation rates have increased as well. Last spring the national graduation rate was a little over 83% and Mississippi’s was just under 83%.
Reeves said the he is hopeful that this continued progress can also take place in 2019.
“We want our three girls and every other kid across this state to have the same opportunities we had. Working together I know we can make Mississippi an even better place to invest capital, I know we can make Mississippi an even better place to create jobs, and an even better place to raise a family,” said Reeves.