Gov.-elect Tate Reeves warns legislative Republicans on gas tax, Medicaid expansion

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Tate Reeves speaks to media after voting during Election Day at Liberty Baptist Church in Flowood, Miss., Tuesday, November 5, 2019.

Republican Gov.-elect Tate Reeves fired a warning shot to legislative Republicans on Tuesday morning who have expressed interest in increasing the state’s fuel tax and expanding Medicaid.

The battle lines drawn this week by Reeves, whose principal campaign strategy involved resisting a gas tax increase and Medicaid expansion, could put him at odds with prominent Republicans in the Legislature, including House and Senate leaders.

Incoming Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann campaigned on giving local governments the option to increase the gasoline tax on a county-by-county basis — a proposal similar to one championed in recent years by Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, that Reeves worked to kill.

“I think the people of Mississippi were overwhelming (in the 2019 election) in their viewpoint that we shouldn’t raise the gas tax,” Reeves said in a radio interview Tuesday morning. “And honestly, any Republican in the Legislature that’s out advocating for the gas tax, I think they are definitely at odds with their constituents.”

Reeves was elected governor in early November, defeating Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood by nearly six points. Hood’s main campaign plank included Medicaid expansion and closely assessing the state’s infrastructure crisis.

Hosemann, the three-term secretary of state who won the lieutenant governor’s seat in November, also campaigned on working to expand Medicaid in the state, going as far as meeting with the architect of Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion plan. Mississippi is one of 14 states in the nation that have not expanded Medicaid.

While Gunn has kept Medicaid expansion at arm’s length during his two terms as the leader of the House, several House Republicans have moved toward expansion in recent months. Former state Rep. Robert Foster, a conservative Republican from Hernando, ran against Reeves in the gubernatorial primary on expanding Medicaid.

Former Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. also proposed expanding Medicaid in the Republican primary. Both Foster and Waller enjoyed broad support among the Republican House caucus, many of whom have long butted heads with Reeves.

Pundits are closely eyeing how the power dynamics in state government will shift beginning in January. Reeves, known for his heavy-handed leadership style during his two terms as lieutenant governor, moves to the Governor’s Mansion, where legislative strong-arming has proven difficult in recent history.

Hosemann has spent November and December meeting with most of the 52 senators — 14 of whom are newly elected. Going into a third term as speaker, Gunn is expected to wield more power over the Republican supermajority than before.

Reeves and his transition team have been working to fill policy positions in the governor’s office and nail down key positions in state agencies. Reeves’ interview on Tuesday morning was one of his first since the election.

“The liberals, the Democrats spent almost $10 million in Mississippi this year trying to convince Mississippians that we needed higher taxes, we needed Obamacare expansion, and they just were unsuccessful in doing so,” Reeves said on Tuesday.

“I think the election gave us a mandate that people in Mississippi do not want higher taxes, and people in Mississippi do not want more government insurance. They want the private sector to be engaged and involved, and they want private insurance for themselves and their families.”

Representatives from the offices of Reeves, Hosemann and Gunn did not immediately respond to requests for comment.