Entering his final legislative session as Senate leader, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves laid out his priorities on Monday.
State revenue collections through December, the first six months of the current fiscal year, are $85.5 million or 3.3 percent above the amount collected during the same time period last year.
With that extra cash on hand, Reeves insisted that the Legislature would not “spend, spend, spend,” just before saying that most state agencies should receive level year-over-year funding and that the Legislature would fund other “specific needs.”
Reeves, who had not previously discussed his legislative priorities, took three questions from reporters on Monday before leaving the luncheon, sponsored by the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government and Capitol Correspondents Association. House Speaker Philip Gunn, in contrast, spent about 30 minutes with reporters in December laying out his legislative goals.
Give pay raises to public school teachers.
Reeves, who spent 20 minutes boasting the state’s educational gains on Monday, said that he plans to fulfill Gov. Phil Bryant’s budget request that public school teachers get pay increases over the next two years.
“If we can commit, as the governor did in his budget proposal, to increasing salaries by $50 million over the next two years, a teacher that was working in 2012 will make almost $8,000 more per year in 2020 than he or she made the year before I became lieutenant governor,” Reeves said on Monday.
Shore up state’s pension program.
Members of the Public Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees have announced their intention to increase the employer (governmental entities) contribution from 15.75 percent of payroll to 17.40 percent starting July 1. They say the increase is needed to ensure the program remains financially viable.
That increase would cost agencies normally funded with state revenue by the Legislature an additional $75.2 million.
Under state law, the increase will go into effect regardless of whether the Legislature acts to provide the additional funds. But if the Legislature does not act, the agencies would be required to pay for the increase out of existing funds, which would be equivalent to a cut in funding for them.
“I do, however, anticipate that the request by PERS will be funded in its entirety,” Reeves said on Monday.
Give state employees a raise.
Reeves said the Legislature could provide an increase in pay for state employees, echoing a suggestion from Gunn, who said in December that state employees, as well as teachers, should be under consideration for a pay raise.
State employees have not had an across the board raise since 2007, though, some, such as those at the bottom of the pay scale, have received raises.
“I look forward to working with Speaker Gunn and our House colleagues to reward those dedicated public servants that are deserving of a raise,” Reeves said.
Push to expand school choice options like vouchers.
After a comprehensive Republican plan to expand a voucher-like program that would allow public school students to attend private schools died in 2018, speculation has swirled about whether Reeves and GOP leaders would push a similar initiative this session.
Without promising action this year, Reeves on Monday did not discount the notion of a renewed effort in 2019.
“I will tell you I look forward to the day that those who advocate for public education can put aside partisan differences, recognize that our positive reforms are working, and join us for even more choice and even more accountability in our educational system,” Reeves said. “And as I am an eternal optimist, I am even hopeful that can take place in 2019.”
Implement additional school safety measures.
Without getting into too much detail, Reeves suggested on Monday that he would push additional school safety measures.
Praising Bryant’s work on the bipartisan U.S. congressional criminal justice legislation passed in December, Reeves said Mississippi could expand on its school safety laws.
Last session, a bill that would have allowed Mississippi teachers to carry guns in the classroom after specialized training died after many GOP leaders had expressed support. A renewal of a similar effort could be taken up this year.
“I believe that this year school safety is an ongoing issue that we will make strides in,” Reeves said.