Education groups rip Speaker Gunn’s massive tax proposal

Published 8:20 am Thursday, February 25, 2021

Mississippi’s leading education advocates are unanimously critical of a massive House plan that would fundamentally change the state’s tax structure, expressing concern that it cuts public education funding in the long run.

The proposal, which would eliminate the state’s personal income tax and raise the state’s sales tax, among other things, was introduced less than 24 hours before House members were asked to approve it. The House on Tuesday passed the bill, which will now move to the Senate for consideration.

Describing the proposal as “reprehensible,” “reckless,” and a “political ploy” that holds teachers “hostage,” education advocates have more questions than answers after what they say was a rushed and secretive process.

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“It was kept under wraps,” said Nancy Loome, executive director of The Parents’ Campaign, whose organization sent an email to members warning them of similar tax cuts in Kansas and Oklahoma that resulted in decreased school funding and, in some school districts, the transition to a four-day week.

Erica Jones, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, the group that represents teachers, and Philip Burchfield, president of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents, have similar concerns.

“With MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program) already underfunded and our average teacher salary lagging behind the Southeastern average by more than $5,000, we quite literally cannot afford to let a bill sail through on the promise that everything will work out in the end,” Jones said in a statement. “All Mississippians — educators or otherwise — deserve time to research and understand the effects of this proposal. We should hear from reputable tax policy experts, not just from politicians, about the impact this bill would have on the state.”

Adrian Shipman, a board member for the Mississippi Public Education PAC, issued a statement opposing the bill.

“If enacted, HB1439 could further reduce available state funds by a third, impacting schools and communities for decades and threatening access to quality education and essential services for our most vulnerable Mississippians,” Shipman said. “Our schools deserve better than this far-reaching policy and its reckless 24-hour push through the chamber. Our communities deserve better. Our children deserve better.”

Adding fuel to the fire, House leaders took the unusual step of incorporating the House’s teacher pay plan language into the tax bill. When asked on Wednesday why the teacher pay plan was put into the House tax bill and whether a teacher pay raise was contingent on the tax bill passing, Gunn said, “Why would they not want both? No logical reason I can understand.”

Gunn said the bill, because it would eliminate personal income tax, will mean an additional $2,500 to $3,000 for teachers who earn between $45,000 and $50,000 per year.

“That is simple math,” Gunn said.