Pine Belt lawmakers outline state budget expectations

Pine Belt lawmakers outline state budget expectations

LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Mississippi lawmakers head to Jackson next week for the 2017 legislative session, and Pine Belt lawmakers are outlining expectations for spending.

Lamar County Rep. Brad Touchstone said he expects a lot of discussion about public education funding and making sure more dollars are spent in the classroom.

"Despite what a lot of people think, Mississippi makes a very large commitment to public education," Touchstone said. "For every $1,000 of personal income in Mississippi, a Mississippian spends $40 for public education. That's about 5 percent higher than the national average. What we're looking at doing is adopting a student-based formula, which looks at what it costs to educate that particular student versus what it costs to run a school district."

Revamping how state schools are funded through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program is something Touchstone said both the state and school districts need.

"I expect us to see those reforms this year," he said. "We need a formula school districts can depend on every year for their own budgeting purposes, so  that we'll give them some consistency in that regard. I think the progress that we're making in that area is going to be very significant."

Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said he has had lots of questions about tax policy, but does expect much change.

"I wouldn't foresee any major tax legislation coming down the pipeline this year, simply because we're still implementing the major overhaul of the tax code from this past session," Fillingane said. "It has several different phase outs of different taxes like the franchise tax, the 3 percent income tax bracket the state currently has, and we're doing away with. All those are being phased out over a number of years, anywhere from 3 to 10 years of phase out, so we don't yet know the full impact of that particular legislation. We want to see how it is progressing before we start making any additional major changes to it."

Fillingane said while improvements to roads and bridges are needed, he expects lawmakers to be cautious with state funds until they know what kind of infrastructure money is coming from the incoming federal government.

"I think what you're going to see is maybe a more cautious approach from the state legislature because the federal government and the new, incoming Trump administration is promising a trillion dollar infrastructure package early on in this first year of their term," Fillingane said. "So, obviously, if we're going to get a major infusion of infrastructure monies from the federal government. I think we're going to wait and see what those are. Do we have to have matching funds to draw down those dollars? Is it grants? You know, how do we go about accessing that cash? So I think it would be prudent for us as state lawmakers to wait and see what the federal government's going to require on their infrastructure bill, so that we can complement what they're doing and maybe partner with them, instead of trying to have two separate tracks going at the same time."