Gov. Bryant to sign special needs education voucher bill into law

In an effort to meet special needs students’ educational requirements and increase graduation rates (currently 22.5% compared to 74.5% for all others), the House and Senate have concurred on Senate Bill 2695 sending it to Gov. Bryant for signing into law.

The bill will provide $6,500 scholarships, sometimes called “vouchers,” to participating students to be used by parents to acquire education that is oriented to the specific needs of their special needs student. The program will be open to 500 students in the 2015-2016 school year; 250 vouchers will be given on a first-come, first-served basis and 250 vouchers will be awarded by lottery.

A similar bill failed to pass the House in 2014. Rep. Carolyn Crawford of Pass Christian vowed to bring the bill back for the 2015 legislative session and, working with Sen. Nancy Collins, pushed the bill to the governor.

Arizona and Florida are the only other two states that have similar programs which are called Educational Savings Accounts.

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Palazzo named to House Appropriations Committee

While the special election to fill the 1st Congressional District is still taking shape, U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo has been appointed to replace the late Alan Nunnelee on the House Appropriations Committee (HAC).

Former Sen. Trent Lott said that Mississippi has been represented on the Appropriations committee since the 1930s and that losing that position would have been a big loss to the Gulf Coast and the state. “I was just depressed that we’d lost that slot,” Lott said. “So with Palazzo going on, that’s really important — important for the district but also important for him. For those federal installations we have down there on the Coast this is really big.”

Since this powerful committee writes the bills that determine where and how tax dollars are spent, the state benefits from the representation. Senator Thad Cochran chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee where he has established a strong history of bringing federal dollars into the state. Since Mississippi is dependent upon federal aid and routinely topping the list of state budgets supported with federal dollars (42.9% of the 2013 budget was provided by the federal government), having representation on the Appropriations committees of both the House and Senate is vital.

Rep. Palazzo should benefit politically because this position greatly expands his influence beyond that of his roles on the Armed Services, Homeland Security, and Space and Technology Committees, some of which he’ll have to relinquish. With Tea Party favorite and state Sen. Chris McDaniel expressing interest in the 4th Congressional District seat, Palazzo’s new-found status should provide give him an edge in future elections.

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Lt. Gov. proposes alternative tax cut plan

The House and the Senate have passed competing tax cut proposals:

  • The Senate passed  SB 2839 that would eliminate the corporate franchise tax over 10 years and provide breaks for small businesses and eliminate the 3% bracket on personal income taxes.
  • The House passed HB 1629 bill eliminating the personal income tax altogether within 15 years conditioned upon a 3% or better “growth trigger.”

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has offered a compromise: implement the Senate plan over 10 years and then eliminate the state’s 4 percent income tax bracket over the next 5 years for individuals and businesses with no growth triggers.

The Senate Finance Committee has passed the compromise but the Speaker of the House Philip Gunn has not yet considered it.

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Governor outlines priorities in State of the State address

Below is the Governor’s address. Gov. Bryant’s remarks start at the 8:30 mark.

Gov. Bryant’s agenda focuses on the following:

  • Job Training
  • Tourism
  • Income tax cuts
  • School vouchers for special-needs children
  • Corrections and contracting reforms

The state’s Democratic Response is below:

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2015 Preview: Busy Year for Mississippi

With 2015 a state-wide election year, the upcoming session of the Mississippi Legislature is sure to be interesting.  First, every member of the legislature and all state-wide office holders are up for re-election. Additionally, Initiative 42, the proposal to amend the state constitution to require fully funding MAEP, will be on the ballot and a possible alternative if passed by the Legislature.

With MAEP on the ballot, public education funding is certain to be a top issue for the legislature. The full MAEP formula has only been funded twice since adopted in 1997 (both times during election years) and, with Medicaid costs increasing, funding the full amount will require some combination of decreasing amounts for other services and higher education or raising taxes.

Tax relief is another political football and only the governor has proposed to give a tax credit to low to moderate income working families.  The $5 state inspection sticker may also come up for consideration since it does not generate much revenue. Corporate taxes are also on the table; Mississippi is one of 13 states with a franchise tax that puts the state at a competitive disadvantage with other states in attracting new businesses.

With the scandals that have hit the Department of Corrections, Contract Reform will likely be another big topic this year. Tighter restrictions on no-bid contracts is likely to be politically popular this year.

Mark the calendar with these notable days in 2015:

  • State Legislature Convenes: January 6th
  • State Legislature Adjourns: April 6th
  • Party Primary Election: August 4th
  • Party Primary Runoff Election: August 25th
  • General/Special Election: November 3rd
  • Special Runoff Election: November 24th

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