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Gov. Reeves: State is ‘unconquerable’

Mississippi is “unconquerable” after a year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters including tornadoes that cut wide paths of destruction last Easter Sunday, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said in his State of the State speech Tuesday.

Speaking on the south steps of the Capitol, Reeves made a few policy proposals. He renewed his call for eliminating the state’s personal income tax and said he would sign a bill to increase teachers’ pay. He called on legislators to make “wise investments” in workforce training, although he did not offer specific proposals.

And, he vowed that Mississippi will vaccinate people against the coronavirus as quickly as possible.

“We need to crush this virus and get back to our way of life,” Reeves said, according to a prepared text of his speech. “The virus is still here, and it cannot be solved by ignoring it. We have to defeat it, because Mississippians are done. We’re done burying loved ones who were lost to this virus. We’re done with stressed hospitals. We’re done with the fearful talk of lockdowns and shutdowns. We’re ready for community again.”

Reeves served eight years as state treasurer and eight as lieutenant governor before being sworn in as governor last January. His first year in the state’s highest office was dominated by the pandemic, with the first virus cases found in Mississippi in March.

“I am here to say that our state is unconquerable,” Reeves said Tuesday. “We have taken every hit that can be thrown. We’ve been tested by every force of nature, disease, and human frailty.”

The governor said when he released his state budget proposals in November that eliminating the 4% and 5% personal income tax brackets would help Mississippi compete against other states in trying to attract new jobs.

Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann told reporters in December that eliminating the 4% income tax would cost about $250 million to $300 million and “we would have to make up somewhere.” He said erasing the entire income tax would cost about $1.9 billion to $2 billion. The state budget is about $6 billion.

Reeves on Tuesday defended his tax proposal.

“There are still many who say that we can’t lower taxes because it puts new government spending at risk,” Reeves said. “And I understand that it is often good politics to act like something from the government is a gift. The far left has played that tune for generations. But we have to be clear: the government does not have anything that it does not first take from a taxpayer.”

Reeves’ predecessor as governor, Republican Phil Bryant, signed a 2016 law that phases out the 3% income tax bracket, starting in calendar year 2018 and ending in 2022. Reeves was lieutenant governor then, and he helped push the plan to reality.

Sen. Jason Barrett (R-D39) of Brookhaven was in attendance and said he thought the governor did a good job of addressing the issues.

“I thought he really promoted how we as a state have acted to combat the virus and are trying to get Mississippi back on track as a state,” Barrett said. “He stressed that we dealt with flooding, hurricanes and the pandemic and kept the economy going. And he stressed workforce development, and I think that’s important, to build a strong workforce.”

However, Rep. Becky Currie of Brookhaven said she was confused over what the governor’s plan is for the future.

“He did say that he would sign a teacher pay raise, which I am thrilled about, but as far as a plan for anything else — especially COVID — I just didn’t get,” she said.

The State of the State speech is usually held inside the Capitol, with senators, representatives, state Supreme Court justices and other officials sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the House chamber. The speech was moved outside because public health officials recommend that people avoid that kind of crowded indoor event due to the highly contagious virus.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.