2024 legislative session: Taxes, healthcare, infrastructure could be major issues

Published 10:29 am Monday, December 25, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — Local legislators serving Brookhaven and Lincoln County will head to Jackson next week for the regular 2024 Legislative Session in January. Taxes, education, infrastructure and healthcare will likely be the biggest issues discussed in the state capitol. 

Lincoln County legislators are House Representatives Becky Currie (District 92) and Vince Mangold (District 53) and Senator Jason Barrett (District 39). Barrett is entering his fourth session. He said he is excited to get to work and believes his experience over the past three years will have a positive impact on Southwest Mississippi moving forward. 

“It should be a productive session and should be a session where a lot of good things come for the people of Southwest Mississippi,” Barrett said. “The last three years have been valuable and I’ve learned a lot and I think people have learned a lot about me. I’m going to say what I mean and do what I say. I’ll be up there working hard and do all I can to help protect people and property. Hopefully, we will help people keep more of their hard earned money. I’ll be trying to serve the people and do the best I can for the people here in District 39.”

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Tax cuts in the form of eliminating the income tax or grocery tax will likely be an issue, Barrett said. He suspects healthcare in general could be an issue in addition to combating crime and improving infrastructure. 

King’s Daughter Medical Center is a local hospital which has seen expansion and growth this year but could be facing the same financial challenges other regional hospitals have across the state. Barrett said the hospital employees at KDMC make up a significant portion of district 39’s constituents and he recognizes some of the constituents in his district may work at other hospitals in Southwest Mississippi. 

He said at this time he can’t say for sure if he supports medicaid expansion in Mississippi because it has been thrown around so flippantly. Instead, he will make a decision when he is able to see the legislative package. The terms of the medicaid plan will be most important.

“It is important before you go for or against something you need to know what the issue is and what the terms are. It is such a vast undertaking to say I’m for medicaid,” Barrett said. “You need to know what limits you are expanding it to, what enrollees you will have and what is the threshold. I want to be sure we have sustainable healthcare and I think that is what we need. If the house or senate develops a plan that is sustained and is beneficial to working individuals I can get behind it.” 

Lincoln County needs help for its infrastructure and most specifically the 290 bridges in the county. Of those 290 bridges, 52 are posted and two are currently closed. Barrett said he was looking at the three year plan for Mississippi Department of Transportation last week and noticed so many Lincoln County bridges needed to be addressed in legislative sessions going forward. 

All of these issues could have an impact on economic development. Barrett said he believes Currie and Mangold would agree with him that it is important to secure funds for their respective districts to improve the area. 

“Developers look for good infrastructure, healthcare and education systems,” Barrett said. “In order to become more attractive to economic development we need to continue to set high standards with education. Keep roads and bridges above water and keep crime down. Our schools continue to do a great job of educating.”

Education could be addressed by fixing any problems with the PERS program, the retirement for teachers and state employees. Barrett said the legislature needs to work to make sure the PERS funds are still there when state employees retire. 

As a senator, he will be working to request funding for municipalities and filing bills for appropriations to cities like Brookhaven.Barrett said while passing legislation is important, so is making sure bad legislation is not passed. 

Last year’s ballot initiative legislation did not pass because of issues with the bill. Barrett said he believes it could be an issue again this year.

“I believe in the ballot initiative process. I believe people need a voice. Government should be transparent and why not give people the opportunity,” Barrett said. ”There is a balancing act. We need initiatives to have a certain amount of signatures to give it credibility so we aren’t overwhelmed by initiatives on the election ballot.”

At this time, Becky Currie and Vance Mangold have not returned phone calls for comment.