As with any session of the Mississippi Legislature, the one that just concluded can be judged based on what lawmakers did and what they did not do.
Normally, those in public office get praised for what they do, but sometimes what they don’t do can be praiseworthy, too.
That’s partially true this time.
What the Legislature did not do is rush through a massive overhaul of the state’s tax system to shift the government’s stream of revenue from one that is balanced between income and consumption to one that is heavily tilted toward consumption.
House Speaker Philip Gunn was a major proponent of the proposed overhaul, but he failed to make a compelling case for it, in large part because he could not produce the numbers to show that the result would be as “revenue-neutral” as he claimed. Gunn and other backers of the proposal wanted to completely phase out the personal income tax, which is already relatively light, and jack up the sales tax on most everything except groceries, the tax rate on which would be halved. Even if such a shift would not hurt the state treasury, it would most likely hurt those at lower income levels, since they spend a larger percentage of their income on taxable items than the well-to-do. Already there were indications that more powerful lobbying groups, such as farmers and manufacturers, were going to be spared the proposed sales tax increases on their industries.
If Mississippi is going to dramatically reshape its tax structure, it needs to do its homework first by thoroughly studying the impact on the treasury and on the population. That involves trying to ensure that the changes are fair and will stimulate the economy, while also producing sufficient revenue to operate state government as it is and hopefully tend to areas that have been neglected. Legislative leaders said such study is the plan for the next year.
There were, though, also some omissions that were not so commendable.
The major one was the Legislature’s continued refusal to expand Medicaid to the working poor, even as the Biden administration made an already sweet deal even sweeter. Unlike with the proposed tax overhaul, there has been plenty of study plus evidence from other states that expanding Medicaid would be a “no lose” proposition for Mississippi. Not only would the federal government indefinitely kick in nine dollars for every dollar Mississippi paid to cover the newly insured, but also Washington would throw in another $300 million to $400 million a year for the next two years toward reducing the state’s cost of the existing Medicaid coverage. Put another way, for every $1 Mississippi were to spend to cover the new enrollees, it would save around $2 on its cost of covering existing enrollees.
Mississippi is one of 12 holdout states that can’t seem to do the basic math, all because the GOP leadership is blinded by its political antipathy for a program initiated by Barack Obama and now being pushed by another Democratic president. In the meantime, Mississippi is missing out on a billion dollars a year that would help struggling hospitals, create thousands of new jobs in the state and lift the anxiety from the shoulders of low-wage workers who go without medical care until their condition reaches a crisis.
There are other things the Legislature could have done, such as expanding early voting and pairing that with procedures to make it easier to clean up bloated voting rolls. But other than the continued irresponsibility on Medicaid expansion, it was generally a productive session. Teachers got a raise, and, if Gov. Tate Reeves concurs, lawmakers took further steps to reduce Mississippi’s onerously high incarceration rate.
Overall, not a bad three months at the Capitol