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The Legislature must decide how to meet our state’s needs

The state Legislature kicked off its 2018 session Tuesday, and the big ticket items are largely unchanged from last year — a lottery, school funding, infrastructure and Medicaid.

On the lottery issue, it appears there is some momentum in favor of enacting it. House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves both oppose creating a lottery, but Gov. Phil Bryant has called for lawmakers to enact it as a means to generate additional state revenue.

Reeves told a gathering of Brookhaven civic clubs that “the chances of a lottery are fairly good” back in October.

“I do not believe it is the huge revenue increase that some have said it would be,” Reeves told reporters Tuesday. “Because I think what you would see is some folks that are spending 100 percent of their disposable income … rather than just going to the grocery store and buying a Coke or buying a pack of Nabs, they would instead go and buy lottery tickets.”

In other words, it would not result in as much “new money” as some would hope. Reeves has a valid point and the state’s economist has told lawmakers that a lottery “would create a slight decrease in total economic activity within the state.”

Rep. Becky Currie said she favors a lottery while Rep. Vince Mangold said he has not supported it in the past and is waiting to see a report from a House committee studying the issue.

Those in favor of a lottery would like to see some of that revenue go toward infrastructure, but a more logical approach would be to raise the fuel tax. That’s not likely to happen this year, however.

“I think it’s unlikely either an increase in tobacco tax or gas tax would have the type of support it would take to pass,” Reeves said Tuesday. “I believe that roads and bridges are core functions of government and something we ought to spend more money on in the state of Mississippi.”

No one would disagree with Reeves when it comes to the need for more money, but finding enough has proved difficult for legislators.

Lawmakers will also have to find funding for education. One of last year’s unresolved issues was a school funding formula.

It will not be an easy task to balance the state’s many needs with its meager resources. But lawmakers are sent to Jackson to do just that. If they can’t, voters will find someone who can.