Gov. Phil Bryant used his State of the State address Tuesday to focus on job creation, economic development and “the other Mississippi” that “is filled with progress.”
“I do have a renewed faith in the outcome,” Bryant said. “I have seen the results of our mutual efforts and know they far surpass the perceived and temporary gain of political posturing.”
Focusing on the good aspects of Mississippi – a common theme from Bryant during his second term – the governor also spoke movingly about the two new state museums that opened in December.
“At that remarkable event, Mississippians of every color and persuasion came together with an understanding of the tragedies and violence perpetrated on innocent people who simply wanted to exercise their right to vote,” said Bryant, who at one point as lieutenant governor had opposed funding a Civil Rights Museum.
“But there was more than our collective condemnation of the racial atrocities on exhibit in the museum,” he continued. “There existed a feeling of mutual reconciliation and joy in the realization that this day, at long last, had become a reality.”
“We saw what Mississippi could be when our common bonds overpower our differences and we accept the reality that we can disagree without being disagreeable,” Bryant said. “We peered into Mississippi’s soul, and saw that it was cleansed of any deceit or malice. The soul of Mississippi now contained a love for all its people, its traditions and most of all, our future.”
Bryant used the bulk of the 37-minute speech to highlight the state’s achievements in establishing a new business climate in the state, one that he noted is being touted nationally as the “Mississippi Model” for reducing government regulations.
Touching on improving the climate for new entrepreneurs, Bryant said he would sponsor legislation this session that will “reduce more government regulation and unleash the independent spirit that will make Mississippi the most job-friendly state in America.”
He listed several economic development projects – some of which were attracted through packages that lowered taxes those companies pay to the state.
Tops on his list was the new Continental Tire plant near Clinton that is scheduled to open next year and employ 2,500 Mississippians.
“It was identified as the top economic development project for 2016 and led to another milestone,” Bryant noted. “Area Development” magazine awarded Mississippi our first Gold Shovel for excellence in economic development.”
He introduced a manager of Milwaukee Tool, which recently announced 660 new jobs for plants in Jackson, Greenwood and Olive Branch.
He underscored Navy contracts that Huntington-Ingalls has landed in Pascagoula, which has constructed 70 percent of the branch’s ships, Bryant said.
He mentioned Roxul plant in Marshall County, which manufactures insulation products; Northrop Grumman, which assembles UAVs in Jackson County; and Borg Warner, which creates auto parts in Water Valley.
As is his custom in public appearances, the governor complained of a focus on negatives: “The proverbial critics would have you believe that one is a declining state whose people are suffering mightily. They search for problems as if there is a reward for finding them.”
He turned quickly to applauding improvements in the state unemployment rate — at 4.8 percent in November it was the lowest since unemployment levels began to be recorded in 1979.
“I believe every Mississippian deserves an equal opportunity for a good job, and I am working hard to make this belief a reality,” he said. “Today, we have more than 40,000 jobs looking for people.”
Bryant touted several educational achievements, including 90 percent of third graders passing the state mandated reading exam and a high school graduation percentage above 80 percent.
He boasted that the Republican leadership’s ability to adopt charter schools, early learning initiatives and school choice options for special needs students.
For this session, Bryant asked lawmakers to expand school choice for special needs students – an expressed focus for legislative leaders this session.
Proponents of this initiative said this week that vouchers would allow students to get the instruction they need, while opponents have said using public school money for students to attend private schools is wrong.
“I continue to believe parents should have the freedom to use their tax dollars to send their child to the school of their choice, not one decided by the government,” Bryant said.
Bryant also implored lawmakers to continue working to rewrite the public education funding formula.
“(The funding formula) should not be a political prop used to allege someone’s failure to support education,” Bryant said. “That old trick hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work this year. By the way, most of us want more than just an adequate education system in Mississippi. We want a great one.”
He also asked lawmakers to fund the Mississippi Works Fund, which would provide workforce training through the state’s community colleges. In the governor’s Executive Budget Report released in late November, he used the term “free community college” to describe the initiative, garnering national headlines.
In Tuesday’s speech, that terminology was not used.
He said he would be seeking another state trooper school, noting, “If we accomplish this goal, we could have more troopers on the road by next year than at any time in the history of the Mississippi Highway Patrol.”
Bryant also lauded the efforts of his Governor’s Opioid and Heroin Task Force for beginning to attack the illicit drug epidemic that is rocking the nation and state, taking 200 lives in Mississippi in the past year.
He announced several projects, including a medical city in the Tradition development of Harrison County that includes a new pharmacy school through William Carey University.
He announced a project that First Lady Deborah Bryant has championed, a long-term palliative care unit in Jackson for sick children at Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital.
Most state public officials attended the speech Tuesday evening, which was hosted in the House chamber. Public television cameras and lights were setup throughout the chamber. Bryant stood at the Speaker’s well and was joined by his wife Deborah.
Members of the state Supreme Court and the state Court of Appeals sat on one side of the chamber floor near the well, and statewide elected officials sat on the other. House and Senate members sat at the chamber desks, and state agency heads and special guests of the governor sat in the upstairs gallery.
Many attendees stood and applauded several times during the speech, while legislative Democrats in attendance largely remained seated.