/2022 no ‘do nothing’ session for Mississippi Legislature

2022 no ‘do nothing’ session for Mississippi Legislature

If this is true, then the 2022 legislative session which begins Tuesday should be a bonanza. Between federal stimulus funds COVID-19 and state tax revenue, the state has $4.2 billion more to spend. This is largely due to federal stimulus spending in previous years. The state’s general budget averages $6 billion annually. The 174-member, part time citizen Legislature would have to work hard to reach an agreement on additional spending. It also has to deal with other major issues, such as redistricting and income tax cuts. Even though they are all Republican, the current legislative leadership has struggled to agree on major issues. Gov. Tate Reeves is often at odds with legislative leaders, even when they have reached an agreement. They have even fought in court. Reeves already threatened a veto for a topic where lawmakers seemed to have reached an agreement after having worked on it all summer: medical marijuana. Reeves had promised for months that he would call the legislature into special session last summer if they could not agree on a program. However, he reneged after claiming the program was too liberal in terms of the amount of marijuana it would give patients and was a stepping stone to recreational use. The legislative session will last approximately three months. Given the amount of work ahead, it’s possible that lawmakers will need to enter extra innings. Some politicians have asked why the governor, who has the sole authority to call special session in 2021, didn’t get the Legislature started on work on medical marijuana and spending the $1.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act stimulus money that lawmakers will direct. Mississippi seems to be slower than other states when it comes to planning and spending ARPA money. Robert Johnson III (D-Natchez), House Minority Leader, stated last fall, “What are you waiting on?” “… It will take time to get it right. We will need to have a special session for planning. I think one of the benefits of unilateral leadership, where one party controls both the houses and the executive, is that everyone would be on the same page, and all of them would be talking. They don’t speak.” Only Lt. Governor. Delbert Hosemann expressed urgency about federal spending. He has demanded that federal spending be well planned and managed to provide lasting, generational improvement in the states with the lowest income in the union. Hosemann established a subcommittee to hold multiple hearings about the funding during the off-season. The hearings were not attended by the House or the governor’s offices. They also did not hold similar public planning sessions. Hosemann repeatedly stated that “we have to get it right” and said that it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” This year, the state income tax will be a topic of heated debate for legislators. Philip Gunn, House Speaker, wants to eliminate the state income tax and replace it by increases in sales taxes. Reeves would like to eliminate the income tax but he is betting on it, and without any other taxes being increased. Each one has criticised the other’s proposal. Hosemann’s approach has been more reserved and measured. Senate leaders have warned against making drastic changes to the state budget in uncertain economic times. A substantial income tax reduction is more likely than elimination for the session of 2022. Other issues, like a teacher raise, appear to have broad agreement. However, the devil and the debate may lie in the details. In the past, observers have condemned a “do nothing Legislature” for failing to address major issues. This won’t be the case for the 2022 Mississippi legislative session.