Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves agenda: Dump inspection stickers, revamp school funding

January 20, 2015 in Education, News

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, right speaks to reporters on the merits of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee's $6 billion spending blueprint for fiscal 2016, which begins July 1, following its release, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, in Jackson, Miss., while House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, listens. The committee is proposing a slightly smaller Mississippi budget for the coming year, despite their expectation that state revenue will increase. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, right speaks to reporters on the merits of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s $6 billion spending blueprint for fiscal 2016, which begins July 1, following its release, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, in Jackson, Miss., while House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, listens. The committee is proposing a slightly smaller Mississippi budget for the coming year, despite their expectation that state revenue will increase. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that he wants to eliminate Mississippi’s $5 annual vehicle inspection sticker, decrease the cost for a concealed-carry gun permit and revamp the school funding formula.

Reeves, a Republican who’s seeking a second term, announced his election-year legislative agenda during a speech Monday at the Capitol. His presentation came two days before Republican Gov. Phil Bryant lays out his own legislative agenda during the State of the State speech, scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday in the House chamber.

The current school budget formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, was put into law in 1997 by a Democratic-controlled Legislature over the veto of a Republican governor, Kirk Fordice. It is designed to give school districts enough money to meet midlevel academic standards. The formula was phased in over several years, but lawmakers — Democratic and Republican — have come under broad criticism for fully funding MAEP only twice.

Reeves said he wants to change the MAEP formula so it would be based on per-pupil spending used by top-performing districts rather than spending used by midlevel districts. Mississippi uses an A-through-F system of rating school districts, like a report card. Reeves said the during the past five years, A- and B-level districts have spent more in the classroom and less on administration than C-level districts.

“I believe that if we want our students to compete nationally and even internationally, we must admit that C-rated school districts are not a strong enough benchmark,” Reeves said.

It was not immediately clear how his proposal would affect state funding levels for districts with high percentages of poor students.

The state charges $100 for a concealed-carry gun permit, and Reeves proposes reducing that to $80. Additional federal fees on the permits would not change.

Reeves said he is still working on a broad-based tax cut proposal and will release details in coming weeks. Bryant is proposing an income tax cut for people with low to moderate earnings. Bryant said a family of four with an income of $52,000 would receive a $921 tax credit under his plan.

Reeves proposes tightening the process for awarding state contracts and requiring public hospital boards to operate under the Open Meetings Act. Both proposals come after recent problems. The former state corrections commissioner and a businessman await trial on federal corruption charges tied to contracts awarded in the state prison system; both have pleaded not guilty. On the Gulf Coast, the Singing River Health System board has come under criticism for secrecy surrounding the financially troubled employee pension plan.

The lieutenant governor also proposes spending $4 million to expand the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s residency program, with the long-term goal of keeping more physicians in the state, particularly in rural areas.

Bailey Hansen, a second-year medical student at UMMC, attended Reeves’ speech with several other students. Hansen said while UMMC has been admitting larger numbers of students to medical school, the state has not yet increased residency programs that physicians need to complete their education.

“Getting more residency programs eliminates a roadblock to getting more doctors in Mississippi,” Hansen said. “That’s what’s really going to be able to make a difference, because so much of Mississippi is underserved in terms of physician numbers.”