State of the State: Mississippi
In his sixth State of the State address, Governor Phil Bryant reminded lawmakers their power is derived from the sovereign taxpayers–a subtle reference to the philosophy of John Locke. The address covered everything from government process reform, budget and economic development policy, to the need for improvements in education as well as in the state’s troubled foster-care system (specified as his top priority).
Remarking on the success of ongoing education reform and economic development efforts, Governor Bryant labeled those who condemn the performance of Mississippi’s public education system or lambast the state’s fiscal condition as “self-appointed education advocates” and manufacturers of “fake news.” The governor noted the success of education reform efforts led by Republican legislators, particularly the 90 percent plus pass rate in reading for third-graders along with the state enjoying the most improved fourth grade reading and math scores. Bryant touted that Mississippi’s high school graduation rate reached a record 80 percent this year.
The governor briefly voiced support for legislative efforts to overhaul and modernize the state’s education funding formula, noting such efforts “should devote resources to education programs that have consistently achieved their stated goal, and prioritize spending where the student gets the most good out of our investment.”
Continuing the discussion on children, Governor Bryant recalled his $34 million request the prior year to facilitate the reorganization and reform of the state’s troubled foster care system. While proudly announcing the system is now out from under a federal government’s oversight for the first time since 2008, the governor stressed there is still more work to be done.
Refocusing on economic issues, Governor Bryant claimed state unemployment is the lowest since February 2004, making Mississippi one of only nine states achieving a “significant” decrease in unemployment as classified by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
Chiding lawmakers for violating the rule requiring 2 percent of available revenues go to savings for budget emergencies, the governor urged his colleagues to refill the rainy day fund according to the law. The governor bemoaned that despite recent cuts, the state budget has still grown from $5.53 billion in 2012 to $6.26 billion this year. “That’s $730 million more in government spending…than just five years ago, so any narrative implying draconian cuts in state service would simply be fake news.”
“I’m reminded of the words of a popular song from 1969: ‘You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need,'” said the governor. Noting the growth in state spending lowered the solvency of the fund, the governor asked lawmakers to consider transferring another $57 million to it at the end of the fiscal year. Highlighting the importance of emergency funds, Governor Bryant commented that over his tenure, Mississippi’s rainy day fund has grown from $115 million in 2012 to $400 million last year.
The governor also asked lawmakers to create a “new and separate savings account” to hold the $110 million left from the state’s settlement payment from the BP oil disaster and affirmed the BP money should be spent on the coast.
Moving into government process reform, the governor called for consolidation of the state’s many agencies, boards and commissions. He stated:
I appreciate the fact that consolidation of agencies means pushing against the status quo and its support system. Vendors, special interests and bureaucrats will protect their sacred cows — as if appointed boards and commissions would be preferable to oversight and management by an elected official who by both law and custom is accountable to the people.
Specifically, he requested lawmakers identify and eliminate at least 16 state boards that have not met in more than a year.
Lastly, to further efforts to raise revenues without raising taxes, the governor indicated his support for a general discussion regarding the implementation of a state lottery. Wrapping up his speech, Governor Bryant said he hopes to work with lawmakers to ensure Mississippi’s Bi-Centennial Celebration is “the perfect opportunity to share with the world everything that makes Mississippi the best place in America to live, work and raise a family.” Preserving such a status requires a commitment to fiscal prudence and limited government.