Schools vs. Tax Cut Rumble Looms for Legislature

Are you ready to rumble?

In one corner stand Governor Phil Bryant, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, and their allies who want to cut taxes.

In the other corner stand the champions for fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) for K-12 schools.

The conventional wisdom is the state budget cannot accommodate both, so all are preparing for a big fight.

Looming behind the MAEP corner are two very different initiatives.  Former Governor Ronnie Musgrove has filed suit to force the Legislature to fully fund MAEP and pay for past shortfalls (minus substantial lawyer fees, of course).  A new group called Better Schools, Better Jobs wants to pass a constitutional amendment to force the Legislature to fully fund MAEP in the future.

Bryant and Reeves oppose Musgrove’s approach and question the constitutional amendment initiative.

Reeves explained, “If this initiative becomes law, it changes the responsibility from elected persons in the House and Senate and gives that responsibility to one judge in Hinds County.” Speaking to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal editorial board he added, “I am not sure in the long term that is good public policy.”

How about a tax cut?

The Governor says he wants to give “significant tax relief to our citizens.”  Reeves says, “We think it’s time for a pay raise for taxpayers.”

School funding proponents disagree. A Daily Journal editorial said, “If Mississippians’ overall tax burden were especially burdensome, there might be justification for a tax cut, but it’s not…. Shoring up vital state services in the wake of an improving revenue picture should be the Legislature’s goal in 2015.”

Potentially momentous, the rumble between MAEP and tax cuts could fizzle. That’s because few Republicans want to be seen opposing education and few Democrats want to be seen opposing tax cuts.

A typical political solution would be to do some of both, better school funding (below the full MAEP level) and a small tax cut (below what Bryant and Reeves may want). Legislative rules favor this approach. It takes a 60% vote to pass a tax cut and the Republican majority in the House is only 52% (versus 62% in the Senate).

But, TEA Party advocates, having heard the magic words “tax cut,” and MAEP proponents, with the push on for full funding, aren’t anxious to settle for a political solution. Remember, next year is election year, giving both side more leverage than usual.

Throw in the TEA Party’s ill-founded desire to scuttle Common Core, university and community college requests for lots more money, and the continued birthing of charter schools and odds increase for politically brutal skirmishes in the education and revenue arenas.

Hearings before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee starting this month should give the first glimpse of what is to come.

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