JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant called for “blue-collar” tax cuts, public school choice and more spending on the state’s troubled foster care system and crumbling highways during his annual State of the State address on Tuesday.
Two weeks after starting his second term, Republican Bryant told lawmakers and other elected officials that the Mississippi government budget has grown significantly in the past five years.
“Perhaps, after reviewing state spending since 2011, it may be time to slow down the growth of government and give some relief to the hardworking taxpayers,” Bryant said to applause from the audience in the House chamber.
While Bryant did not propose a specific type of tax cut, he clearly did not embrace Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ proposal to phase out the franchise tax, which would give businesses a $400 million break over 10 years.
“I believe we must work toward a plan where the hardworking, blue-collar families of Mississippi get a tax dividend,” said Bryant, who often mentions in public appearances that his father was a diesel mechanic. “It may not be this year, but when we are having surpluses and a full savings account, let’s pledge to give the people back a portion of their hard-earned tax dollars.”
Bryant said parents should be able to choose which public schools their children attend, and he called on legislators to remove barriers to creation of more charter schools, which are public schools that operate under a separate governing board. He also said he wants to eliminate the election of school superintendents and go to a system of appointment by local school boards — a proposal that has failed for decades amid opposition from politically connected elected superintendents.
Mississippi Economic Council, the state chamber of commerce, is pushing lawmakers to invest millions in repairing highways and bridges. While some lawmakers support an increase in the gasoline tax, others say they don’t want to dig further into drivers’ wallets.
“There is no reason we cannot balance an increase in fuel tax, if there is one, with an equal and sufficient tax reduction,” Bryant said.
The governor for the first time released details of his state budget proposal for fiscal 2017, which starts July 1, saying: “It is full of tough decisions and sound business practices, and it will not make everyone happy.”
In a document released with his speech, Bryant asked legislators to put an additional $34.4 million into the foster care system, which is under scrutiny because of a long-running federal lawsuit. A court report issued in early January said the state had fallen short in most standards of care and had provided insufficient training for foster families.
“As is required by the laws of this state and nation, we must accept our responsibility to adequately care for these children,” Bryant said.
Legislators responded to his foster care proposals with some of their loudest applause of the evening.