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Lottery, school funding could get Mississippi debate in 2018

The Mississippi Legislature on Tuesday started its three-month session with plenty of issues to consider.

Lawmakers could debate creating a lottery. They could try to rewrite a school funding formula. They could seek a long-term plan to pay for highway construction.

Mississippi is one of six states without a lottery. House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves both oppose creating one, but the Republican leaders have acknowledged that many legislators would like to vote on the issue.

“I do not believe it is the huge revenue increase that some have said it would be,” Reeves told reporters Tuesday. “Because I think what you would see is some folks that are spending 100 percent of their disposable income … rather than just going to the grocery store and buying a Coke or buying a pack of Nabs, they would instead go and buy lottery tickets.”

In a separate interview Tuesday, Gunn said his top priorities are rewriting Mississippi’s public school funding formula, finding more money for roads and bridges, and reauthorizing the state’s Medicaid program.

“We want to find a formula that is predictable, that is understandable, that is reliable,” Gunn said the proposed overhaul of the $2 billion-plus school funding formula.

Gunn said a bill was being drafted that would resemble many of the recommendations of EdBuild, a New Jersey-based nonprofit group that made suggestions last year at the behest of Republican leaders.

The current funding formula, called the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, was put into law in 1997. It is intended to give each school district enough money to meet midlevel education standards, but legislators have only fully funded it two years.

Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory, who helped write the current formula, said legislators back then conducted committee meetings that were open to the public. He said the process this time is secretive.

“The fact that this has been going on now for more than a year and it’s still taking place in secret ought to absolutely terrify everybody who cares about public education in the state of Mississippi,” Bryan said Tuesday.

This is the second year of a four-year term. Republicans continue holding a supermajority in both the House and the Senate, after special elections to fill seats of legislators who left.

The GOP gained one Senate seat when Democrat Bill Stone of Holly Springs departed and a Republican, Neil Whaley of Potts Camp, was elected.

Republican Sen. Joel Carter of Harrison County was inaugurated Tuesday to succeed Sean Tindell of Gulfport, who was appointed to a nonpartisan judicial post.

Other new lawmakers were sworn in after winning special elections in 2017. Their elections did not change the partisan balance of power.

One seat remains open because Republican Rep. John Moore of Brandon resigned in early December. A special election is Feb. 20.


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