/Taxes, spending go under the magnifying glass

Taxes, spending go under the magnifying glass

Monday’s meeting was a sort of orientation in which the lawmakers who make up the study groups were provided with an outline of their goals. The tax study group, which includes 13 Republican legislators, five Democratic lawmakers and the governor, consists of 5 lawmakers from each party. Drew Snyder, Phil Bryant’s policy Director, will evaluate other states’ tax systems and call in experts from within and outside the state to give “the best information” to the group. Lt. Governor. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn stated that all options are on the table, including raising certain taxes to eliminate personal income tax and adopting an Internet sales tax. Gunn also suggested the idea of moving the franchise tax phase out. The Legislature approved it in April, one year before its planned 2018 implementation. Reeves stated that a tax code should encourage investment and not discourage it. “We want to move towards a user-based rather than an income based system… It’s about building upon our successes over the past five years.” Reeves said Gunn did not have a set deadline to make final recommendations, but Gunn stated that he would prefer to have a plan in place by January 2017, when the 2017 legislative session begins. Monday’s questions were posed to members of the Tax Study Group about their responsibilities over the next weeks. Senator Terry Burton (Republican from Newton), asked Monday if the group would assess the effects of state tax changes upon local and municipal governments. Reeves said that Gunn would be taking these matters into account. Senator Willie Simmons (D-Cleveland) asked if the group could request counsel from groups at Mississippi State University or Jackson State University. Gunn stated that the group would need to be able to obtain the best information possible and that it was possible for these entities or other entities to be brought in. Trey Lamar (Republican from Senatobia) said that he would be open to discussing the implementation of an Internet sales tax. Reeves stated that federal guidelines could interfere with plans to discuss the matter. However, Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, said he would like to explore the possibility of implementing an Internet sales tax. Nine additional groups will examine the budgets for 13 state agencies in order to determine if certain agencies or expenditures within them should be privatized. These agencies will be examined: Department of Education (K-12), Institutes for Higher Learning and Community Colleges; Department of Corrections; Department of Public Safety; Department of Medicaid; Department of Human Services; Department of Mental Health; Department of Transportation; Boards and Commissions and Department of State Buildings and Grounds and Property. Reeves stated that “over 90% of general fund equivalents” were spent on these 13 agencies. Gunn stated that some of the major expenditures were Medicaid, Department of Education and Corrections. Gunn was deciding which agencies to evaluate. “I looked at large expenditures. Many lawmakers from both sides have discussed the Fiscal Year 2017 state budget. The budget was approved in April, with little information being provided to lawmakers and agency heads prior to final approval. The legislative leadership made a $56 million error in its passage. This meant that the amount needed to be repaid during the 2017 fiscal year which began July 1. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (a Democrat) claims that at least $79million of the special fund sweeps bills, which transferred many agencies’ special funds into a general fund, can not legally be swept. State Treasurer Lynn Fitch (a Republican) echoed Hood’s assessment last week, stating that the state now has $135 million in outstanding debt. Gunn and Reeves denied in July that the budget working group was created because they had budget concerns. They both maintain that the Legislature will fill the financial gaps when it convenes in January. Gunn and Reeves discussed Monday a number of specific expectations. Reeves and Gunn Monday discussed specific expectations regarding personnel in departments. They will examine how raises have been given in the last five years and how they reflect agency priorities. How many employees were added to each department over five years. How does the total number employed compare with the population served. They will also assess existing contracts to determine whether they are worth renewing or giving to ex-employees of the agency or department. They will also evaluate in-state and outside-of-state travel receipts, and purchase matters like automobiles and other items. Reeves gave an example: “In five years the Department of Health has increased more than 20%.” Instead of looking at the line item that states they spent this amount on salaries, let us look at the salaries for individuals in that department. Let’s see if executive officers get paid bonuses every year. Gunn and Reeves stated that the budget working group should have their final recommendations done by November. This is when the Legislative Budget Office begins compiling fiscal-year 2018 budget recommendations for the Legislature. In the weeks and months ahead, the tax and budget study groups will meet a number of times. These meetings will be made public at a later date. “We’re going digging in and doing our jobs,” stated Sen. Buck Clarke (R-Hollanddale), the Senate Appropriations Committee chair. “This will eventually be a very positive thing for this state.” To support this work, make a regular donation today to celebrate our Spring Member Drive. This will allow us to continue important work such as this one. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think. Republish this Story You can freely republish our articles online or in print under a Creative Commons licence. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.