“It’s the lowest unemployment has been in Mississippi’s history,” Bryant told members of the Mississippi Economic Council in January. “We have 40,000 jobs open in this state. We used to have people looking for jobs, but now we have jobs chasing people.”The state’s unemployment rate dipped to 4.5 percent in February, which is the lowest rate since data was tracked. That figure means Mississippi unemployment ranked 33rd lowest in the nation that month. However, fewer people are working in the state than in January 2008, the peak of employment before the Great Recession. One example of the tax incentive strategy state leaders have employed came in 2016 when the Legislature offered a tax incentive and bond deal to Continental Tire, which will invest $1.45 billion in the state and is expected create 2,500 full-time jobs at a plant near Clinton. Mississippi will issue $263 million in bonds to the Germany-based company, and an Associated Press estimate suggests the project will cost the state $600 million in all, including tax incentives. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn have spearheaded numerous tax cuts and tax incentive packages that they say will help the state’s economy in the long run. In 2016, they spearheaded efforts in the Legislature to pass the largest single tax cut in state history, eliminating the corporate franchise tax and the 3 percent individual income tax bracket. “The tax cuts were never about increasing our revenue, although I will tell you I believe in the long term they will, in fact, have that effect,” Reeves told reporters in January. “The tax cuts were more about improving Mississippi’s competitiveness in recruiting new business for our state and in growing our existing businesses.” Meanwhile, the state’s economy has grown modestly the past three years, but much slower than the national average and any Southern state. “The result of this lack of momentum is that our recovery following the Great Recession has been one of the worst in the nation,” Darrin Webb, the state economist, told lawmakers in late 2017. “Between the bottom of the recession in 2009 and 2016, the state grew only 1.7 percent compared to the national growth of 14.1 percent. The southeast region, excluding Mississippi grew 16.9 percent. Our border states grew 8.2 percent. These data are for real GDP, and if we looked at employment or income, we would see a similar pattern of relatively flat growth over the past seven years.” The poll revealed interesting thinking among Mississippians on two topics that have dominated discussion in the Legislature and among businessmen and state residents: roads and schools. Legislative leaders focused the 2018 legislative session on locating additional funds for maintenance of the state’s roads and bridges. Of those polled in Mississippi, 61 percent said state government was doing a poor job in maintaining roads and bridges. Fifty percent of Republicans polled said the state was doing a poor job, while 49 percent said the state was doing a good job. Among Democrats, just 25% said the state is doing a good job in that area. Respondents from other states have a more optimistic view on how their state is maintaining roads and bridges, with 56 percent of respondents in the South poll saying their state government is doing a good job maintaining roads, bridges and other infrastructure, while just 36 percent of Mississippi respondents say the same — a 20 percentage point difference. One idea floated this session was to increase the state’s gasoline tax to provide more funding for road improvements, which some Republican lawmakers supported but legislative leaders strongly opposed. Mississippians showed a nearly 2-to-1 willingness to pay more taxes in order to fund better infrastructure, according to the poll: 62 percent of Mississippians responding said that they were willing to pay more taxes, while 36 percent were not. Interestingly, of those who were unwilling to pay more in taxes for infrastructure, 38 percent were Democrats and just 33 percent were Republicans. The willingness of Mississippi respondents to pay higher taxes for roads exceeds the response across the South, with 56 percent voicing support for raising taxes to address infrastructure issues. Another key issue for Republican leaders the past two years has been rewriting the state’s public education funding formula. This year the Senate was unable to pass a new funding formula approved by the House after public school activists and public school leaders questioned whether local school districts would have to raise local taxes to offset any state funding losses. According to the poll, 60 percent of Mississippians said they were willing to pay more taxes for public schools, while 37 percent said they were unwilling. That is similar to the Southern poll result, which showed 57 percent of respondents would be willing to pay higher taxes to support public education. The Mississippi poll showed that 50 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats were willing to pay more taxes to support public education. The NBC News|SurveyMonkey polls were conducted March 12-25, 2018, among a national sample of 15,238 adults (+/- 1.1); a regional sample of 4,132 adults who live in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia (+/- 2.4); a sample of 1,486 adults who live in Mississippi (+/-4.6); a sample of 1,498 adults who live in Alabama (+/- 4.5); a sample of 2,209 adults who live in Georgia (+/- 3.4); and a sample of 1,710 adults who live in Tennessee (+/- 4.1). Respondents for this nonprobability survey were selected from the nearly three million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. For full results and methodology, click here.