Gov. Reeves budget: Eliminate income tax, skip teacher pay hike, create ‘Patriotic Education Fund’

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Gov. Tate Reeves released his Fiscal Year 2022 budget recommendation on Monday.

Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday his budget priorities include eliminating the state’s income tax, which generates about 32% of Mississippi’s general fund revenue, and spending $3 million on a “Patriotic Education Fund,” which would financially reward schools that combat “revisionist history” that is “poisoning a generation.”

The Republican governor released his budget plan on Monday in advance of the 2020 session, when legislators will work to fund a budget for the new fiscal year starting July 1. Lawmakers set the state budget and seldom follow recommendations from a governor.

During a briefing on Facebook Monday afternoon, he did not list providing a teacher pay raise, one of his top campaign promises from his successful 2019 gubernatorial campaign, as a budget priority for the upcoming session. And it does not appear a teacher pay raise is factored into his executive budget recommendation that was released Monday as mandated by state law.

But later Monday, responding to a question from Mississippi Today, spokesperson Bailey Martin said, “We believe strongly that we can still find the funds to administer teacher pay raises. Due to extremely conservative revenue estimates, the bulk of the money that was available for the priorities listed in the EBR were one-time funds, not recurring revenue. So most of the projects that Gov. Reeves proposes fall under that category, but we believe we can fund a teacher pay and that will be a priority as recurring revenues continue to beat expectations.”

The executive budget recommendation advocates that the personal income tax, which generates about $1.9 billion annually, be phased out by 2030.

“Because this plan is a phased approach, we will be able to ensure adequate funding will be available for education, law enforcement, health care, and transportation priorities,” the governor wrote in a budget narrative. He said the proposal will save someone earning $40,000 about $1,850 per year.

During his 2019 campaign for governor, Reeves proposed a four-year plan to increase teacher pay by $4,200 as one of his top priorities. During the 2020 session, it appeared that the legislative leadership and Reeves were poised to provide teachers a major salary increase, but those plans were put on hold by an anticipated decrease in state revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As recently as last week, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said he supports a 2021 teacher pay raise if revenue allows it.

On Monday, during a Facebook event, Reeves said state revenue was strong and advocated for the elimination of the income tax, but did not address the teacher pay increase.

“Mississippi needs to make a bold move to attract new business and residents,” he said, explaining his reasoning on eliminating the income tax.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, who is the 1990s authored a major income tax cut, said “now is not the time to be cutting taxes” during the pandemic. He said education, transportation and multiple other areas of state government were under funded.

“If we cut taxes, there is that much less much money available for the public schools,” Bryan said. “We are not funding the schools now at what the law requires and the reason they (political leadership) say we are not doing that is that we do not have the money, but we have the money for this tax cut.”

The Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides for the basic operation of local school districts, is level-funded in Reeves’ proposal – more than $250 million short of full funding.

Bryan argued that if a tax cut was passed by the Legislature, it should be to eliminate the 7% tax on food, which is the highest state-imposed tax of its kind in the nation. He said Mississippi’s high tax on food disproportionately harms the state’s poor residents.

Overall, Reeves said most agencies were level-funded in his $6.13 billion budget proposal. Reeves’ proposed budget is in reality $1.17 billion or 16.1% less than the actual budget for the current fiscal year. But the budget for the current year contains more than $1 billion in one-time federal funds to combat the coronavirus. Of that federal money, $200,000 went to public schools.

In his budget, Reeves proposes limiting funding to schools that are not providing in-person learning because of COVID-19.

In the area of education, Reeves is proposing $3 million for a Patriotic Education Fund to combat “indoctrination in the far-left socialist teachings that emphasize America’s shortcomings over the exceptional achievements of this country.”

“Revisionist history has aimed to tear down American institutions, and it is poisoning a generation,” Reeves wrote in his budget proposal. “Capitalism, democracy, and other uniquely American values have been the victims of a targeted campaign from foreign and domestic influence—aiming to destroy the pillars of our society. The United States is the greatest country in the history of the world. No other nation has done more for its citizens or to advance freedom and prosperity across the globe. We need to combat the dramatic shift in education.”

In addition, Reeves also is touting funds to hire math coaches for the public schools, expand computer science programs and provide additional funds for workforce training.

The governor proposes funds to help small businesses impacted by the pandemic. He also wants additional funds for the police training academy, saying those funds were in response to others calling for a reduction in police funding.

“Over the last several months, law enforcement officers across the country have come under attack for doing their jobs,” Reeves wrote. “These brave men and women put their lives on the line every day to ensure the safety of our communities. I am committed to providing adequate resources for our law enforcement officers so that they have the training and resources necessary to perform their duties.”