Governor’s Cuts To State Agencies Could Put Pressure On Schools To Raise Taxes Next Year
By Tommy Reynolds
The Mississippi House of Representatives passed HB 364 last Wednesday, which would raise $70 million dollars for the state’s General Fund this fiscal year from an increase in cigarette taxes. The tax rate on cigarettes in Mississippi is currently 18-cents per pack, and is one of the lowest in the nation. Our state’s cigarette tax is also lower than all of our surrounding states. In the past few years, the Governor has opposed raising cigarette taxes at all. Now he states he is willing to consider some raise.
Last week, the Governor announced cuts to state agencies of $158.3 million dollars in current fiscal year appropriations. This means that on Thursday school districts throughout the state got a notice that their funds would be cut 3.49 percent for this fiscal year, on top of other cuts that had been made from the state. This could put considerable pressure on many school districts to raise local taxes next year.
If the House’s cigarette tax increase makes it through the legislature process, it would provide revenue that could be used to not only prevent drastic cuts in grades K-12, but also to protect universities and colleges from substantial cuts. The could also be used for other necessary services including the Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health, which provides for crisis centers for our mentally ill as well as local treatment facilities for the mentally ill.
I am also very concerned that we not have a situation where progress we have made in colleges and universities, and in public health are not lost.
At the federal level, there is legislation being considered which should be passed within the next few weeks which will provide additional assistance for the state’s Medicaid program. This would not provide, as presently proposed, the level of funding that would be needed for other health and education needs of our state.
The $158.3 million dollars in cuts last week made by Governor Barbour cut the public schools by $76.6 million. He stated that local school districts had large reserve funds in most cases. This is not the case for the Water Valley School District, the Coffeeville School District or the Charleston School District. Our school districts do not have large rainy day funds.
I am concerned about pressure from the state level put on local districts, which results in increased costs to local taxpayers. This pressure could also mean a reduction in the quality of our students’ educational opportunities.
The tobacco tax increase passed by over a 2 to 1 margin in the House. I voted for the Bill, and did so for several reasons. It was reported to us last year that approximately 4,700 people die in this state each year from tobacco-related illnesses. Currently it is estimated that 20 percent of our state high schoolers smoke. If we can stop a substantial portion of high schoolers from smoking, this will result in decreased healthcare needs and a better quality of life for these youngsters.
If I can be of any assistance to you, please call on me. My phone number in Jackson during the session is (601) 359-3365. The phone number in my Charleston office is (662) 647-3203, and my residence phone number is (662) 473-2571. I can also be contacted by writing me at my home address of 15 CR 429, Water Valley, MS 38965, or at my office address of P.O. Box 280, Charleston, MS 38921.