- Associated Press - Thursday, July 14, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi legislative leaders are appointing groups to study tax policies and examine state spending.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn announced Thursday that they are co-chairmen of the tax study group, which includes 18 other lawmakers. The goal is to make recommendations for the House and Senate to consider during the 2017 session.

Reeves and Gunn are Republicans, and their party holds a three-fifths supermajority in both chambers - a strong enough margin to enact tax changes without input from Democrats.

The tax study group has five Democrats and 15 Republicans, including Gunn and Reeves.

“We want to examine the entire tax structure and develop a comprehensive plan that is both fair and provides a more solid stream of revenue,” Gunn said in a news release.

Mississippi Democratic Trust executive director David McDowell said in his own release that Reeves, Gunn and GOP Gov. Phil Bryant “will not rest until Republicans put Mississippi out of business.”

“This is just the beginning of another ill-fated attempt at corporate handouts at the expense of Mississippi’s most vulnerable and our dwindling middle class,” McDowell said.

Gunn said it’s possible the group will recommend un-doing recently passed tax cuts, such as one to phase out the corporate franchise tax, The Clarion-Ledger reported (https://on.thec-l.com/29SnBQp ). Reeves said he doubts that would happen.

Other committees will focus on spending by the state’s largest agencies, including the departments of transportation, health, mental health, human services, corrections, public safety and education, and the Division of Medicaid, the Institutions of Higher Learning and community colleges.

Reeves said the new panels will be able to take a “deeper dive” into agency spending, on things such as travel, than lawmakers are able to do during regular annual budget meetings.

“For instance, the Department of Mental Health is an agency that has done a lot of complaining to you all, and talked about shutting down beds,” Reeves said to reporters at the Capitol. “But they’re doing that just a year after spending $1 million on office furniture.”

Bryant had to do midyear budget cuts and withdraw more than $100 million from the state rainy day fund during the fiscal year that ended June 30 because revenue fell substantially short of expectations.

WJTV-TV reported (https://bit.ly/29SnYKs ) that the governor said he expects more cuts are coming, and said both parties share responsibility.

“We’ve allowed this government to grow and outpace inflation by almost 5 percent,” Bryant said. “So, when you see that 24 percent growth in state spending, at some point or another you’re going to have to slow it down.”


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