Governor’s election year budget proposes teacher pay increase, $75 million to shore up pensions

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant speaks during a press conference before this week’s special session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Jackson Thursday, August 23, 2018.

Gov. Phil Bryant is proposing a teacher pay raise, totaling $25 million, and pumping an additional $75 million into the state’s retirement system to help ensure its financial viability.

Bryant also is recommending to the Legislature that no state agency be cut for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Legislature will go into session in January. One of the priorities of each session is adopting a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning July 1. State law requires both the governor and the Legislative Budget Committee, which includes the House speaker and the lieutenant governor, to release budget proposals before the session begins.

The Budget Committee is scheduled to release its proposal in December.

The budget approved during the 2019 session will be the plan in place when state elections are conducted later in the year.

Of his proposed teacher pay raise, Bryant said,  “These men and women are the keys in developing our children into the future leaders of Mississippi that will continue to move the state forward, and I look forward to working with the Legislature on a plan that better compensates our teachers for their work.”

Bryant, whose tenure will end in January 2020, said he would like to see the Legislature make a commitment for another teacher pay raise in the 2020 session.

The last teacher pay raise was passed in the 2014 session. It gave teachers a $2,400 across-the-board pay increase over a two year period in addition, starting in the third year, an opportunity for teachers to receive smaller raises based on the performance of their school.

According to statistics compiled by the National Education Association for 2017, Mississippi ranks last nationally in average teacher pay at $42,925 per year. The average nationally is $59,660.

On social media after the governor released his budget proposal, the Mississippi Association of Educators tweeted a $25 million pay raise would equate to an average raise of $781 a year per teacher before taxes.

“We know ‘supported a teacher pay raise’ looks good in a 2019 campaign ad, but please don’t think this symbolic gesture is going to quiet us,” the tweet reads.

The governor said anticipated revenue growth allows him to make a recommendation that includes a teacher pay raise, funds to shore up the state’s pension program and does not cut any agency.

Revenue is projected to grow 2.6 percent for the upcoming fiscal year.

But the modest growth, if it occurs, will come on the heels of two years – 2016-17 – where numerous cuts were made to various agencies  because of sluggish revenue projections. By historical standards, 2.6 percent growth would be considered modest, not strong.

Besides teachers, the state has multiple other potential needs. For instance, state employees have not had an across-the-board raise since the 2007 session, though, legislators have given agency directors more flexibility to provide employees raises for multiple reasons, such as achieving educational benchmarks.

Still, the average annual salary of Mississippi state employees – $37,911 per year – trails that of the contiguous states.

The governor’s total state-support budget recommendation is $6.27 billion – $170.3 million more than what was appropriated during the 2018 session. State support agencies are those funded through general taxes, such as on income and on retail sales.

In addition to state support, there also are so-called special fund agencies that are funded through specific fees or taxes. For instance, the Department of Transportation is funded through the 18.4 cent per gallon gasoline tax.

When those special fund agencies and federal funds are added, the total Mississippi budget is $20 billion.

The governor proposes level funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program – $2.2 billion – or more than $200 million short of full funding. Since 2009, MAEP, which provides the state’s share of the basics to operate local school districts, has been underfunded $2.2 billion.

The proposal by Bryant would expend 98 percent of anticipated revenue as mandated by state law to provide a cushion if revenue does not meet projections.

Bryant said his proposal also includes:

• An increase of $8.5 million to $48.2 million for college financial aid

• An increase of $17 million for Corrections to $332.9 million, primarily for a pay raise for corrections officers

• And increase of $26 million for the foster care system

• An increase of $1 million for community mental health services.