Being in the Capitol Dome, it’s sometimes a little disheartening to see things happen first hand and then see it portrayed differently in the media, the blogosphere or just in political circles.
As the 2013 regular session has come to a close and two special sessions (Yokohama and Medicaid) have ended, I think it is a great time to reflect over the past two years’ legislative activities and give credit to our Lieutenant Governor, Tate Reeves, for his conservative leadership. I think it is obvious to anyone who pays close attention to State Government that the State Senate has been a great place for conservative legislation these past two years. None of these bills would have passed – or even been seriously considered – without the support of Governor Reeves.
Education Reform has been a key legislative priority for Governor Reeves’ Senate. Under the direction of Chairman Gray Tollison, the Senate has passed the most significant education reform in decades. These bills include a revamping of the way that schools are graded – to make it easier for parents and taxpayers to understand how their local schools are performing and what can be done to improve those rankings where they are lagging. A two-year fight for charter school legislation resulted finally in a workable charter school bill that was even stronger in the Senate version but is going to lead to improved results in many areas of Mississippi. Finally, the dreaded “consolidation” fights that have lagged for decades, has finally been joined and several underperforming school districts have been consolidated at long last. This will save taxpayers’ money and provide a better educational outcome in many of these underperforming districts.
In the 2012 Legislative Session, Governor Reeves asked me as Finance Chairman that the Inventory Tax issue be addressed as Mississippi was only one of a small handful of states in the US who still imposed a tax on unsold inventory. This was a problem for Mississippi in recruiting new industry to our state and a burden on our small business owners and large businesses alike. With the passage last year of a four-year phase out of the State Inventory Tax, some have called that session the most “business friendly” in years. Not resting on past accomplishments, the Lieutenant Governor and the Finance and Energy Committees worked hard this session on a restructuring of the way energy is taxed for many businesses in the State that will encourage new businesses and encourage energy exploration and development which will mean new jobs and new tax revenue into the State Treasury.
In his 2011 campaign for Lt. Governor, then-Treasurer Reeves vowed to seriously address the state’s bonded indebtedness, and ever since he has led the Senate to do just that. In the 2012 session, no new bonds were issued as a result of the large division between the massive House bond proposal (over $400 million) and the much smaller Senate bond proposal (under $130 million). Governor Reeves took a tremendous amount of heat both publicly and privately, but held firm in his belief that it was the right thing to do. As a result, in the 2013 session, due to his strong conservative leadership, a reasonable bond package of just at $200 million was approved by both chambers. As part of this bond package, for the first time ever in history, a sunshine provision for State Bonding was adopted which will reveal to all the taxpayers which companies receive the work for state bonding and how much those companies charge the State of Mississippi for their work. I believe that this provision alone with ultimately save the State of Mississippi millions of dollars and better educate us all about how state borrowing actually works.
In addition to shining light into State Bonding, last session, Governor Reeves supported the passage of the “Sunshine Bill” that had failed legislatively for many years prior to his taking office and in 2012, that bill became a reality. Now, the citizens will have more information about what outside attorneys our State Attorney General hires and what they actually do for the State taxpayer and how much they charge. It also gives the state agencies the ability to have legal representation in the event the AG feels he cannot represent them in the way they wish to be represented in litigation.
Let’s not forget redistricting. Under Governor Reeves’ direction, a very fair and balanced Senate redistricting plan was adopted after the previous year we failed to reach an agreement with the House of Representatives. This year the Senate also passed strong Pro-Life legislation, strongly supported economic development through the special session on Yokohama and the MDA budget, passed one of the strongest 2nd amendment right-to-bear-arms bills in the nation, a religious liberty bill related to student-initiated prayer, and a successful special session on Medicaid. Governor Reeves’ signal leadership on the Medicaid issue was crucial to having our state Medicaid program reauthorized for the next twelve months. There was a real possibility and danger of the program being at least temporarily shut down by special interests had the special session legislation on reauthorizing Medicaid not been handled as adeptly as the Lieutenant Governor and Senate Public Health Leadership handled it.
In addition to all of the conservative legislation that has been achieved in these past two years, our Lieutenant Governor who won the Lieutenant Governor’s race in a landslide has also involved himself in Christian leadership in the State Capitol. Through his support and personal participation in the Capitol Prayer and Ministry Foundation, Governor Reeves has set a tone for Christian conservative leadership in and around the State Capitol Building. He has raised the funds to allow the Foundation to provide prayer lunches throughout the last two sessions for members of the State Legislature as well as statewide officeholders and judges to come and pray together. He helped form the Foundation with the Chairman, Ben B. James, Jr., and has personally attended and spoken at these luncheons. I have witnessed Governor Reeves praying with Ben over these important issues which our State faces both publicly and privately.
As Ben and I were discussing recently with Governor Reeves, we are all huge fans of the former Prime Minister of Britain, the late Baroness Margaret Thatcher. Baroness Thatcher was a conservative leader for her time and believed in bringing all parties in Britain together under conservative, commonsense leadership for the good of all the citizens of Britain. She was captured beautifully in the recent movie, “The Iron Lady” when she stated of the differing factions in the British House of Commons that she never liked coalitions, but wished to bring all parties together for the common good. I think that is what Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves has done in the Mississippi Senate for the past two years and I know that the next two will be no different. As someone who sees the inner workings of the Senate, I can tell you that Tate Reeves is committed to doing the right thing. As Haley Barbour often said, “it’s amazing what you can get done if you don’t worry about who takes credit.” He chooses not to divide people, but bring them together under the umbrella of effective, commonsense, conservative Christian leadership. I believe we are better for it and much in his debt for such quality leadership.