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Hewes pushes govt. reforms

The candidate is tired of study panels.

District 49 Senator and lieutenant governor hopeful Billy Hewes,R-Gulfport, says he’s been pushing for big changes in Mississippisince he was elected to the Senate in 1992, but the plans alwaysget bogged down in endless talk or passed off to study committees.On Tuesday he told the Brookhaven Lions Club he would use thehigher office to get behind government reform and keep on shovingif he were to win the race for lieutenant governor this year.

“I will continue the implementation of reforms we’ve been tryingto get passed for years. There are some things that, if you couldjust get it to the floor, it would pass,” Hewes said. “People arevery serious about some issues we haven’t brought up.”

One reform Hewes is supporting this year is the consolidation ofadministrative services for all public school districts. SenateBill 2655 would require the Department of Finance andAdministration to establish an Office of Shared Services that wouldadminister districts’ purchasing, payroll and other similarfunctions on a regional basis.

Education reforms are necessary to relieve some pressure on thestate, Hewes said. He said lawmakers annually appropriate around 60percent of the state budget to public education, a figure equal toaround $3 billion. In the last seven years, spending increases havebeen awarded to the tune of $250 million for K-12, $120 million forcolleges and universities and $60 million for communitycolleges.

“And to hear what’s out there, you’d think we’d been cuttingthem horribly,” Hewes said.

But even though the senator’s shared services bill survived aTuesday deadline that annually kills half the bills in theLegislature, it was heavily amended in committee.

“This bill has been pared down. They want to study it,” Hewessaid. “We have too many defenders of the status quo. The people ofMississippi have already studied it.”

In what surely was no surprise to the senator, two other reformbills he’d authored for this session also died on Tuesday’smidnight deadline.

Senate Bill 2024, a consolidation bill, would have limited thenumber of school districts in each county to one. It’s a touchyissue that made a comeback in 2010 but isn’t generating much buzzin 2011.

SB 2025 would have limited state agencies’ annual budgetrequests – a process Hewes called a “dog and pony show” – to anamount commensurate with state growth.

“We have some agencies that ask for $20 million, $30 million or$40 million more, and we had one agency this year that asked for$50 million more,” he said. “But we can’t do it the way we’vealways done it. The reality is the money’s not there. We’ve beentrying to encourage them to give us realistic numbers.”

Hewes also discussed redistricting with the Lions Club, an issuethat grew contentious when Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant declared the Senatewould investigate new district maps drawn up by the House and notimmediately stamp them with approval, as his been done in thepast.

The Senate will be looking for a few standards in redistrictingplans – minimal splitting of precincts and no gerrymandering. Hecriticized districts that stretch across multiple counties in wildshapes, saying the voting zones should be more symmetrical.

“Hopefully, the maps will look more like a quilt and eliminatethe snakes and lizards and squiggly lines,” Hewes said.

If he’s elected lieutenant governor, Hewes said the first thinghe would do is give a prayer of thanks, and the second thing he’ddo is eliminate Mississippi’s inventory tax, which he claimed wouldfree up $140 million for business owners.

“You don’t tax or borrow yourself into prosperity,” he said.

Hewes called attention to his 25-year background in insuranceand real estate, saying state government needs someone with strongbusiness sense to lead.

“I have the ability to provide leadership and adopt measuresthat would create jobs for Mississippi and improve our quality oflife,” he said. “I’ve scratched and saved all my life to build myown business and put kids through college, and that counts for alot.”