Legislature: The War is Just Beginning | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Legislature: The War is Just Beginning

Bryant has proposed a tax break for people with low to moderate incomes. He says a family of four with a household income of $52,000 would receive a $921-a-year tax credit, and a single person with an income of $14,590 would receive a credit of $75. The tax breaks would be available only in years when state revenue grows by at least 3 percent.

Bryant has proposed a tax break for people with low to moderate incomes. He says a family of four with a household income of $52,000 would receive a $921-a-year tax credit, and a single person with an income of $14,590 would receive a credit of $75. The tax breaks would be available only in years when state revenue grows by at least 3 percent. Photo by R.L. Nave.

The Mississippi Legislature is back in session tomorrow, which means another three months of state officials at battle on issues, some of questionable significance. The session begins noon on Tuesday as state leaders and most lawmakers vie for attention in this election year.

Legislators expect great contention around education during this session—both on funding and changing of school standards. Taxes and prisons also will make an appearance on the agenda.

Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn—all Republicans—have expressed displeasure with Mississippi's use of Common Core academic standards. However, with an independent state superintendent of education and Board of Education, it's unclear how much influence the Legislature will have on repealing or revising the standards.

The only two times the Mississippi Adequate Education Program has been fully funded was in election years, but Republican lawmakers have made it clear that they don't believe in the formula used to fund public schools in the state.

Because the Legislature is not likely to fund education "adequately" as outlined in MAEP, the public-school advocacy group Better Schools Better Jobs has proposed an amendment for the November ballot that will change the state constitution to require the Legislature to provide an "adequate" and free education for Mississippi schoolchildren.

The Legislature has the option to add an additional amendment on the ballot for funding education, but public-school advocates believe the reason they would do this is to confuse voters.

Bryant has proposed a tax break for people with low to moderate incomes. He says a family of four with a household income of $52,000 would receive a $921-a-year tax credit, and a single person with an income of $14,590 would receive a credit of $75. The tax breaks would be available only in years when state revenue grows by at least 3 percent.

Former state Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps and businessman Cecil McCrory await trial in April on federal charges that they participated in a bribery scheme tied to prison contracts. Bryant appointed a commission to review Mississippi Department of Corrections' spending, and the said commission is asking legislators to tighten the contract process for all state agencies.

Bryant says he will ask the Legislature to move two programs away from MDOC control. He wants to put the state treasurer in charge of an inmate welfare and canteen fund, and he wants to put the secretary of state in charge of the prison system's agriculture land-leasing program.

While the metaphorical combat between legislators takes its toll on the effectiveness of Mississippi policy, the Capitol building itself looks like it could be the result of a war. Restoration continues on the structure as the 2015 session begins.

One of the biggest committee meeting rooms, known as the Old Supreme Court Chamber, is closed for a few more days as workers repair water damage that occurred during a Nov. 16 storm.

Apparently, the risk of material falling from the rotunda at the center of the building has warranted the building of temporary walls to prevent people from standing beneath the dome.

Meanwhile, Mississippians are lining up to announce their candidacies for various offices. As expected, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant had said he would seek a second term as the state's top executive. Brandon Presley, a Democrat who serves as Northern District commissioner on the Mississippi Service Commission, recently announced that he would run for another term on the PSC.

Presley, who had been floating around as a possible Democratic challenger to Bryant, could have given the governor a run for his money given Presley's populist appeal and name recognition (he is a cousin of rock legend Elvis Presley). With Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, also deciding to stay put for at least another term, the Democratic gubernatorial nomination could turn into a free-for-all.

In other political announcement news, Mitch Tyner, who proved to be an interesting character in the Republican U.S. Senate primary saga as State Sen. Chris McDaniel's lawyer, and Democratic lawmaker Cecil Brown will both run for the open seat on the Mississippi Public Service Commission.

Joel Bomgar, a technology entrepreneur who founded the multi-million dollar Bomgar Corporation, declared his candidacy for the Republican primary in Mississippi House of Representatives District 58, the seat of retiring Republican Rita Martinson. Senate Republicans nominated Sen. Giles Ward as Senate president pro tempore.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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