Most lawmakers tapped to study the state’s tax system and specific agency budgets this week serve on existing legislative committees handling the state’s finances.
Eighteen lawmakers will make up a tax study group, and several other groups will be created to study specific agency budgets, the state’s top elected Republican leadership announced Thursday. Moving toward “comprehensive budget and tax reform,” the groups will search for “unnecessary expenditures” and “ways to spend our money more effectively.”
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said the lawmakers – 13 Republican and five Democrat – were chosen by him and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. The two will co-chair the legislative panels.
“Some of it is based on their chairmanships, some of it is based on their areas of expertise,” Gunn said when asked about how lawmakers were chosen. “Some of it is based upon their expressed interest. Some of them have said, ‘I want to be on that group or this group.’ For instance, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee will be on the MDOT working committee.”
The list of lawmakers who will make up the tax group includes chairmen of many financial committees: Senate Appropriations Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale; Senate Finance committee chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall; House Revenue and Expenditure Chairman Mark Formby, R-Picayune; House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus; and House Ways and Means Vice Chairman Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia.
The entire membership of Reeves’ Senate Legislative Budget Committee, which makes up half of the committee that regularly meets with the Legislative Budget Office and the Revenue Estimating Group to finalize the state’s budget, will serve on the group: Reeves, Clarke, Filligane, Senate Pro Tempore Terry Burton, R-Newton, Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, and Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland.
Just two from the House’s Legislative Budget Committee – Smith and Rep. Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia – are on the tax group list.
Cockerham is also the only House Appropriations Committee member (out of 31 current members) who will serve on the group. The House Appropriations chairmanship is open at this point after former chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, was appointed head of the Department of Revenue. He was sworn in that post July 1. Gunn wil make the decision on who will fill that chairmanship.
Three members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, including Clarke, the chairman, Burton and Simmons, will serve on the group.
The Thursday announcement was met with praise from Republican leaders like Gov. Phil Bryant, who commended both Reeves and Gunn for their dedication to “preserving our state’s finances.” But Democrats criticized the announcement, highlighting what they called “past financial failures” from Republican leaders.
“I applaud them (for the announcement). The first thing you have to do is to admit that you have a problem,” said Bobby Moak, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party. “… It is time to join the rest of logical and reasonable Mississippians who believe their tax dollars should be spent on services for which they were originally taxed and not given away as campaign donation prizes to elected officials’ political backers.”
Other Senate members on the tax list include Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, who is chairman of the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, and Transparency committee; Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, who serves on the Senate Finance committee; and Sen. Juan Barnett, D-Heidelberg, who also serves on the Senate Finance committee;
Other House members on the list include Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, who serves as chairman of the House Judiciary A committee; Rep. Shane Aguirre, R-Tupelo, who serves on the House Revenue and Expenditures committee; Rep. Chris Johnson, R-Hattiesburg, who serves on the House Banking and Financial Services committee; Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, who serves on both the House Revenue and Expenditures committee and the House Ways and Means committee; and Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport, who serves on the House Education and Tourism committees.
“These groups will work hard to make good recommendations to the Legislature,” Reeves said. “Our effort to reform state government and eliminate waste will never end. There’s no specific timing to it other than knowing it needs to get done.”