The 2017 (Regular) Legislative Session
Article byPosted Featured AuthorJune 2017
Republicans dominated Mississippi's 2015 legislative elections turning what were nominal leads in the House and Senate into super majorities in both chambers. This numeric advantage theoretically enables Republicans to pass tax bills and other measures without Democratic support. Two sessions into this new reality, Republicans still face significant challenges in efforts to extend their electoral success into real policy results.
Among the priorities outlined by Republican leaders heading into the 2017 legislative session were two main goals:
- Addressing the state's crumbling infrastructure with a roads and bridges plan and
- Changing the state's current public education formula (MAEP).
If anyone at the Capitol believes Mississippi isn't in need of a plan to revive its roads and bridges, they aren't saying it out loud. Our state chamber of commerce, the Mississippi Economic Council, has made its "Mississippi Roads Matter" campaign the centerpiece of its work. If you've been to a civic club luncheon in the last year, chances are you've heard the presentation. While there was never a proposal that would fully address the state's road maintenance needs, the House did offer several proposals that would have provided additional funding. In the waning days of the session, debate on these proposals devolved into a discussion of whether the House's plan to earmark a portion of the internet sales tax for infrastructure was, in fact, a tax increase. The debate between Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn, while fascinating, did not result in a solution and the session ended without a real roads and bridges plan.
Prior to the session, legislative leaders took the unprecedented step of hiring an outside consultant to propose changes to the state's education funding formula. The consultant, New Jersey based EdBuild, made a presentation in January offering several suggestions. That presentation marked the end of substantive public discussion on the subject. A bill was never drafted, no specific proposals were debated in committee and, as the session wore on, it became less clear which members of the legislature were actively working on a plan. At this point, predicting the proposal or a timeline for its unveiling is pure guesswork.
Because the House and Senate could not agree on a budget for the Department of Transportation or the Attorney General's office, they'll be back for a special session on June 5th, the start of the next fiscal year.
These misfires are emblematic of a leadership team that is still finding its way. My partner on MPB's @Issue, Austin Barbour, would caution that big policy changes take time. He's right. Our state faces considerable challenges and addressing these challenges will not happen overnight. But Republicans have held sway over Mississippi government since long before they achieved their super majorities. For better or worse, our success will be tied to how quickly they can master the learning curve.