[Fleming] A Voice from the Capitol, Day 1

2007 should be an interesting year for the Mississippi Legislature. First, for obvious reasons, it is an election year. All of us will be trying to put our best foot forward to push for legislation to show our constituents why they should have us returning to the job of representing them for another four years.

Look for issues that can be used in the respective campaigns statewide to play strongly in the early part of the session, maybe even the first week. The grocery tax reduction/tobacco tax increase bill will be one of those bills that—regardless of the final outcome—will play a major role in all the legislative races and the governor and lieutenant governor races.

There is also talk that a minimum-wage increase bill could emerge, since a number of states passed ballot initiatives to raise their own minimum wages, and it was a prevalent issue in the 2006 national campaigns. Of course, fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Formula is a traditional fight that will have a traditional ending this year. The only time MAEP was fully funded was 2003, an election year.

The one issue I think everyone is sleeping on is the renewal of the Mississippi Department of Health. Many know there has been controversy brewing at the department with the close vote to retain Executive Director Dr. Brian Amy and the reports of discrimination and lack of full disclosure about disease outbreaks. What many do not know is that the department officially sunsets as an agency on July 1, 2007, if the Legislature does not act to renew. That won’t happen, you say? Remember a couple of years back—I want to say 2004—when the Department of Human Services was not renewed during the legislative session as the conference report got left in the dust due to the Medicaid controversy? I have been a member of the House of Representatives for the last eight sessions, and I can safely say, based on that experience, with all surety that anything can happen.

In the toot-my-own-horn category, I will again push for legislation to eliminate the tax on overtime compensation. Loyal readers of the Jackson Free Press and its Fleming blog remember the drama that surrounded this legislation last year. Hopefully, this real tax break for some 455, 000 Mississippians will get through both houses and be signed by the governor without all of the commotion this time around. PEER has stated that the loss of revenue from the exemption will be around $12.5 million. When you factor in that the money those hard-working taxpayers receive will be spent in our state’s steadily growing economy, the revenue generated by the sales tax would reduce the loss to about $7.25 million, an amount that our annual three percent growth will pick up for fiscal year 2009.

This session, with five new legislators and one transfer (Joey Fillingane, R-Lamar County, moved from the House to the Senate), will not be the typical, play-it-safe election-year session. With a concerted effort by the GOP to win control of both houses in November, the stakes are high, and the buzz is going to be loud.

Be sure and visit Rep. Erik Fleming’s blog, and watch for other legislative blogs coming online this week.


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