A legislative wish list

Published 7:27 pm Thursday, January 2, 2020

As a new legislative session approaches, priorities are quickly being established. State budget leaders expect to have an additional $107 million during this year’s session compared to the previous year.

Below are a few things we hope all legislators, especially those representing Southwest Mississippi, will consider:

• Increase the fuel tax. We know this likely won’t happen on the state level, but Mississippi’s roads and bridges need work and the best way to fund that work is to ask the people who use them to pay more.

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Lt. Gov.-elect Delbert Hosemann said he will push to allow counties to hold referendums on whether they want to increase the tax on fuel. But everyone already knows how that vote will go — rarely will anyone vote to increase their own taxes. Instead of passing the buck to voters, the people we elect to represent us should do what’s best, not what’s politically popular.

• Expand Medicaid. Though adding more working poor to Medicaid rolls seems nearly impossible, there are Republicans who support the idea. The biggest obstacle will likely be the new governor, who rejects any sort of expansion or reform of Medicaid. A plan from the Mississippi Hospital Association is a good place for legislators to start on the issue.

• Increase teacher pay. Until Mississippi matches the Southeastern U.S. average for teacher pay, we will continue to lose bright educators to neighboring states. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves and Hosemann have both said a teacher pay raise is a priority for state leaders.

• Trim state agency budgets when needed, but invest in providing more services when possible. The Legislative Budget Committee recommended cuts to Medicaid, higher education, mental health and Child Protection Services, according to Mississippi Today. Cuts to those agencies will affect some of the state’s most vulnerable residents — children and the mentally ill. We encourage lawmakers to invest tax dollars in places where the need is great and where results are tangible.