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Mississippi governor candidates spar over taxes, brain drain

The two major-party candidates for Mississippi governor debated Monday for the second time in less than a week, arguing over education, taxes and the “brain drain” — the loss of people moving to other states for jobs.

Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood and Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves faced off in the WCBI-TV studio in Columbus. Sitting near one other at a table, they aggressively criticized each other’s records in public office.

Hood said Mississippi’s economy has lagged behind those of other Southern states for the past decade. He also said Reeves has given hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts to out-of-state corporations in exchange for campaign contributions.

“You gave away everything,” Hood said to Reeves. “He’s given $765 million a year in tax giveaways, and our general fund budget is $6 billion.”

Reeves said Hood wants to raise taxes on companies that employ thousands of people, and that could hurt the economy.

“Letting you keep more of your money in your pocket so you can spend it on whatever you choose to do it, that’s not a giveaway,” Reeves said.

Reeves said Mississippi schools are seeing academic improvement.

Hood said Reeves is taking credit for teachers’ hard work while shortchanging an education funding formula by about $2 billion the past several years. Hood also said Reeves filmed a campaign commercial at a private school that’s receiving state money.

“He has earmarked a million dollars to that private school and then he got $5,000 in campaign contributions,” Hood said. “That’s just not being truthful with people when you’re running TV ads talking about helping on education when you haven’t.”

Reeves responded: “Mr. Hood’s taken a contribution from the leader of that school, as well. Are you going to give that money back?”

Hood interjected: “I didn’t give them a million dollars a year like you have.”

Reeves has pushed to put public money into scholarships for students with special needs to attend some private schools. He said Monday that Mississippi has increased funding for public education by $400 million a year.

Both candidates have proposed increasing teachers’ pay.

“One thing I’ve proven as lieutenant governor is when I make a commitment, I actually get it done,” Reeves said.

Hood said Reeves has had eight years as lieutenant governor to push for higher teacher pay and better education funding “and we haven’t done anything.”

“It’s too late, Tate. You’re just now coming up with these election-year proposals,” Hood said.

In response to a WCBI viewer’s question, Reeves said he would support increasing funding for local public libraries.

“And the reason is because reading is so critically important,” Reeves said.

Hood responded: “The lieutenant governor is just not being truthful with people. I mean, he’s the one that caused these 18% cuts to these libraries.”

The two candidates debated before an audience Thursday at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.

The general election is Nov. 5. Two other candidates are running low-budget campaigns for governor.

State law prohibits the current governor, Republican Phil Bryant, from seeking a third term.


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