Read their lips: No new taxes

Officials made feelings known in speeches at MEC’s annual event

Mississippi’s statewide elected officials each spoke for about 10 minutes at last Thursday’s Hobnob.

A panel of media experts from around state field questions about the 2010 political season and beyond.

A panel of media experts from around state field questions about the 2010 political season and beyond.

They all said pretty much the same thing: The state’s budget for fiscal year 2012 will be among the leanest the state has had in generations, and raising taxes on anything or anybody is no way to fill the holes.

“I’m against raising anybody’s taxes,” said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

With money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act no longer available, agencies are bracing themselves for substantial cuts in revenue. In FY12 alone, nearly $600 million that filled last year’s budget gap will not be there next July 1.

Gov. Haley Barbour, in a video message to the 2,000 folks at Hobnob, said most state agencies will have between 20 and 25 percent less money than they did two years ago. He also reiterated how not to fix it.

“We’re not going to have a tax increase this session,” he said. “This will be the toughest budget we’ve had to deal with.”

State treasurer Tate Reeves speaks to more that 1,000 under the tent at the MEC Hobnob.

State treasurer Tate Reeves speaks to more that 1,000 under the tent at the MEC Hobnob.

This seems to be an issue Democrats and Republicans can tread common ground on. Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, who appeared on behalf of Speaker Billy McCoy, said he found “no mood in the House” for any sort of new revenue generated from raising taxes. Mayo was one of handful of legislators who have spent the past few sessions pushing legislation that would levy an excise tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks. The effort has never gotten very far, and it appears it won’t next session, either.

Mayo was the only speaker who offered any detailed consequences of agencies going without a large chunk of funding. The Department of Mental Health, he said, will have to close four of its facilities and do away with all but the most necessary of its programs, which echoes what DMH director Dr. Edwin LeGrand told the Mississippi Business Journal two weeks ago.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who called the current financial climate “the worst possible time to raise taxes,” said he will reintroduce legislation this session that would transform the state’s budgeting process from a line-item method to a performance-based model. The legislation sailed through the Senate last session but died in the House.

“All we want is a vote on the House floor, “ Bryant said. “Hopefully we can get it next year. I’m telling you, it will change everything.”

Hosemann has his own legislative agenda, parts of which he unveiled under the big white tent at the Mississippi Ag Museum.

Hobnob visitors take a gander at the wares of all of the business booths on display last Thursday.

Hobnob visitors take a gander at the wares of all of the business booths on display last Thursday.

“We need to have corporate law reform,” he said, adding that he would like Mississippi’s corporate legal structure to mirror that of Delaware, which is home to the most corporate headquarters per capital than any state in the U.S.

Photos by Don Smith/Mississippi Business Journal
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