Black caucus forum takes aim at tax cuts, budget, GOP policies

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Mississippi’s financial outlook took the spotlight at a town hall the Legislative Black Caucus hosted at the Capitol Thursday night.

Citizens and caucus members expressed concerns about lacking input on changing the state’s tax code, citing the 2016 regular session in which a Republican supermajority passed the largest tax cut in Mississippi history — a $415 million cut that phases out the three-percent tax bracket for individuals and corporations, as well as eliminate the franchise tax on businesses.

Corey Wiggins, director of the Hope Policy Institute, addresses members of the Legislative Black Caucus and attendees Thursday night.

Gabriel Austin | Mississippi Today

Corey Wiggins, director of the Hope Policy Institute, addresses members of the Legislative Black Caucus and attendees Thursday night.

When asked what steps lawmakers would take to reverse the effects of the cut, which will go into effect July 2018, Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, said the Republican supermajority’s tight grip would make rolling back the cuts difficult.

“While they (Republicans) do have the supermajority, the largest tax cut in state history passed with the votes of Democrats,” said Rep. Jarvis Dortch, D-Raymond. “We have to hold our own members accountable, and that’s one of the good things about meetings like this.”

This week, the Tax Foundation, which monitors government tax policies, issued a report giving Mississippi’s cuts high marks and said the changes would likely help improve the state’s investment climate.

“A fairer, flatter tax policy helps make Mississippi companies more competitive globally by eliminating or reducing that additional cost,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves told Mississippi Today of the report ranking the state’s tax system 28th in the nation.

At the black-caucus town hall, presentations from non-governmental organizations cast the cuts and other legislative policies in different light.

Corey Wiggins, director of the Hope Policy Institute, discussed several misconceptions of the state’s budget – he called it “a crisis” – and the state’s tax code.

Wiggins said tax cuts do not necessarily stimulate economic growth, pointing to slow economic growth from other states like Kansas, Maine and Ohio after passing large tax cuts similar to Mississippi’s.

Rep. Earle Banks Sr., D-Jackson

Mississippi House

Rep. Earle Banks Sr., D-Jackson

Mississippi ACLU policy director Erik Fleming detailed his organization’s goals for the 2017 legislative session, including the introduction of a Mississippi civil-rights bill which would implement state protections for victims of discrimination.

Jackson filmmaker Roderick Red showed an excerpt from his film chronicling the effects of not expanding Medicaid in the state.

When lawmakers opened the floor up to residents’ questions, the event more closely resembled a rally than a town hall. Attendees applauded and cheered as lawmakers answered questions and tried to encourage the group.

One resident stood and asked for clarification on what regular citizens could do to spur a change in policy. Rep. Earle Banks, D-Jackson, gave a rousing response, slamming his fists on the table as he spoke loudly into the microphone.

“Unless the public gets behind us and people realize the economy is going down, then nothing will change,” Banks said. “These tax cuts will be detrimental to our state. They (Republicans) don’t care about the little person. We have to come together and say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

The Legislative Black Caucus will host two more town halls before the end of October. The next one is scheduled for Starkville on Oct. 1; the next in Biloxi on Oct. 22.