HATTIESBURG – House Democrats, feeling unheard by Republican leaders at the Capitol on budget and tax policy, are taking their message directly to Mississippians.
About two dozen Hub City residents gathered Thursday evening at the Jackie Dole Sherril Center downtown to hear several concerns from Democratic leaders over lower-than-projected revenue collections, budget cuts and a continued focus on cutting corporate taxes.
“We want you to better understand what we’re dealing with at the Capitol,” said Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, the House minority leader. “We’ve raised these issues repeatedly when (Republican) leadership bring tax cuts and budget cuts to the table, but we feel like it’s falling on deaf ears.”
“We want to bring this information to you, the voters, so y’all can understand what’s happening in your Capitol and with your economy,” Baria said.
Republicans hold a three-fifths supermajority in both the House and Senate, meaning no Democratic votes are needed to pass appropriations and revenue bills. The result: Democrats’ concerns have been ignored by legislative leadership the past two regular sessions.
Their concerns over budget and tax policy are rooted in unexpected budget cuts, declining revenue and Republicans’ continued focus on cutting corporate taxes.
Mississippi collected $169.3 million less than expected last fiscal year, prompting three mid-year budget cuts. Lawmakers in March approved a fiscal year budget that was $314 million less than budgeted for the previous fiscal year.
Sara Miller, analyst at HOPE Policy Institute, gave attendees a crash course in recent budget trends and implemented tax policies. She said one major reason state revenue collection has fallen short of projections is corporate tax cuts.
Miller warned that the 2016 franchise tax cut, which goes into effect starting this fiscal year, will further cut into revenues.
Republican leadership has based its fiscal policies on the theory that cutting taxes will attract new companies to the state and encourage new investment from existing companies, which will then create jobs, benefitting Mississippi workers and consumers.
At the end of this year’s legislative session, House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, expressed the views of the Republican leadership about state spending: “We Republicans have campaigned for many, many years that we are for living within our means, we are for controlling spending, we are for reducing the size of government.
“We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem. We are for reducing the tax burden,” Gunn said.
Democrats, though, have long maintained that the approach will do nothing more than cut into revenue sources that are already struggling to fund basic governmental services.
“There is an effort right now to intentionally underfund government,” said Rep. Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg. “I’m impressed to see all the interest in these issues because they are vitally important.”
Baria said House Democrats will host at least three other town halls across the state this fall. The next will take place Sept. 19 in Tupelo.