Bless their hearts. They did the best they could.
After taking care of themselves, political promises, and lobbyists, there just wasn’t much Republican legislators, with their new super-majority in the House and Senate, could do to take care of Mississippi’s real needs.
At least it certainly looks that way.
House Republicans kept their money train fueled by special interests and lobbyists on track.
Contributions to legislators’ campaign accounts are how lobbyists and special interests buy influence. After news reports detailed how legislators abused these accounts by paying for lifestyle expenses unrelated to campaigns, the Senate moved to stop it. House Republicans rebelled, killing a watered down compromise of the Senate bill. This move also killed a needed election law update developed by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
Political promises battled with political promises in bills providing $308 million in bonds and $415 million in tax cuts. House Republicans wanted extra millions in bonds to keep numerous political promises. Senate Republicans wanted a big tax cut to help Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ keep political promises to business interests. Their hard fought compromise (cough, cough) was to do both.
“This bill is the same kind of Christmas-tree-collection of earmarked goodies that many of these same state legislators rail against Congress for pushing through in the dead of the night,” Republican State Treasurer Lynn Fitch said of the bond bill.
The tax cut bill included Reeves’ plan to phase out $260 million in business franchise taxes. Also included were $10.2 million in tax cuts for small business owners and a $150 benefit to individual taxpayers from phasing out of the 3% personal income tax bracket at a cost of $145 million.
Keeping political promises over the past five legislative sessions has now resulted in business tax cuts totaling over $620 million.
On the one issue where business interests wanted taxes increased, Republican legislators chose to keep lobbyists happy instead. A Mississippi Economic Council report documented the dire need for funds to repair Mississippi’s roads and bridges. The business group called for new revenue totaling $375 million a year. Anti-tax lobbyists, many driven by out-of-state special interests, persuaded (cough, cough) GOP legislators to do absolutely nothing about this real need.
Another unaddressed real need is the growing fiscal crisis. Just after Republican legislators adopted its huge tax cuts, Gov. Phil Bryant ordered additional mid-year budget cuts and another raid on the state rainy day fund. Couple these with legislators depending once again on one-time money to balance the budget and you see the state’s sound fiscal foundation starting to crack. Aggravating the problem, insiders say spending bills just passed will exceed next year’s revenue by $150 to $200 million. And that’s before the new tax cuts kick in.
Yes, it seems clear, the politics of self-interest and special interests now dominate the Republican dominated Legislature. Responsible governance, espoused by the early fathers of the modern Republican Party in Mississippi and championed by former Gov. Haley Barbour, has had its day.