Governor Bryant Delivers 2016 State of the State Address and Releases Fiscal Year 2017 Executive Budget Recommendation
Jackson, Miss. – Gov. Phil Bryant, in his fifth State of the State Address, presented to lawmakers tonight his priorities for the 2016 session. Among them are reorganizing the state’s foster care system, bolstering workforce development programs, a Blue Collar Tax Dividend for Mississippi’s working families and school choice and innovation.
Additionally, they include a Physician’s Compact Bill that will increase access to healthcare and an Associate’s Degree program at Mississippi’s four-year institutions of higher learning designed to help students who encounter unforeseen hardships.
“As we all know, the Olivia Y lawsuit has tarnished the image of our state’s treatment of foster children and foster parents, many of whom serve from a sense of caring and Christian compassion,” Gov. Bryant said. “As is required by the laws of this state and nation, we must accept our responsibility to adequately care for these children. I will ask your help to support Family and Children’s Services, currently housed in the Department of Human Services, to be fashioned as a separate agency that reports directly to the governor. To reduce the cost, we can utilize that portion of the funding currently being spent at the Department of Human Services for this division, plus an additional amount that must be decided by this Legislature. I am concerned if we cannot make some aggressive commitments to foster care in the state, then the courts will do so for us.”
Gov. Bryant proposed utilizing $50 million that sits idle in the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund for workforce development programs. The programs would train workers in the “middle skills that are so desperately needed,” Gov. Bryant said.
“It is now time to make the investment in Mississippi’s workforce before it is too late. We have $50 million sitting idle in the Unemployment Trust Fund. Let’s invest it now in workforce training, and I will show you Mississippi’s greatest potential. We can lead the nation in economic development if you will give us the tools to reach these goals.”
Blue Collar Tax Dividend
Gov. Bryant supports returning tax dollars to Mississippi’s working families. The Blue Collar Tax Dividend would provide an income tax credit to working Mississippians earning up to $52,000 annually.
“Perhaps, after reviewing state spending since 2011, it is time to slow down the growth of government and give some relief to hardworking taxpayers,” Gov. Bryant said. “I am certain we will have a robust debate this session regarding tax reductions. As for me, I believe we must work toward a plan where the hardworking blue collar families of Mississippi get a tax dividend.”
School Choice and Innovation
“Just imagine that parents could take their hard-earned tax dollars and send their child to a school of their choice,” Gov. Bryant said. “Imagine the freedom of a parent in a failing school to send an at-risk child to a superior school nearby but outside the district. Why should only the affluent enjoy the benefits of these fine schools? Your zip code or income level should not determine your opportunity to get a good education. Let us make this bold decision and give these children hope. We should also remove the barriers to charter schools and extend their range across district lines so children can pass through these imaginary walls to a better, brighter future. I ask you tonight to let them have this freedom and tear down these walls.”
Gov. Bryant also urged lawmakers to make all Mississippi superintendents elected, rather than appointed.
“I will ask you for more innovation by first changing how we go about selecting our local superintendents of education,” Gov. Bryant said. “Of the entire nation, Mississippi has one-third of all that are elected to that important position. There is a reason most of the nation has elected school boards and appointed superintendents . . . because it works.”
Physician’s Compact Bill
Gov. Bryant will support a Physician’s Compact Bill that would allow doctors from compact states who move to Mississippi to practice medicine. It would help the state reach its goal of increasing by 1,000 the number of practicing physicians by 2025.
“A physician from Alabama could move to Mississippi and his license to practice medicine would be accepted by the Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure,” Gov. Bryant said. “This reciprocity may result in physicians relocating to Mississippi from a number of states.”
Associate’s Degree Program
Gov. Bryant will endorse legislation that allows students who leave a four-year university after two years, for legitimate reasons, to receive an Associate’s Degree in their field of study.
“In several other states, this has been successful, and it can be here as well,” Gov. Bryant said.
Executive Budget Recommendation
Gov. Bryant also released to lawmakers his Executive Budget Recommendation for Fiscal Year 2017.
Gov. Bryant’s EBR balances Mississippi’s budget and outlines a conservative and prudent spending plan that uses no one-time money for recurring expenses, replenishes the Rainy Day Fund to its statutory capacity and prioritizes core government functions.
Most agencies are level-funded at the revised state support amount, consistent with recent reductions, or are returned to pre-budget cut funding levels.
The EBR calls for $34.4 million in additional funding for the state’s foster care system to comply with the Olivia Y settlement agreement. It also includes $51 million for the Rainy Day Fund, which would boost the state’s savings account to $428 million.
Gov. Bryant’s EBR level-funds the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which was exempt from recent cuts. It continues $15 million in funding to help schools prepare for Third Grade Gate.
Programs that have proven to work are prioritized. The EBR calls for the National Board Certified Teachers Program to receive $500,000 in additional funding over FY 2016. Jobs for Mississippi Graduates, whose success rate with at-risk students is 95 percent, would receive $1.3 million in additional funding.
Gov. Bryant’s EBR calls for $1 million for the Delta Early Childhood Pilot program and continues support for other important programs, such as the Early Learning Collaborative.
Gov. Bryant’s EBR includes $5.4 million for the Department of Public Safety to annualize salaries for the Mississippi Highway Patrol and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.
The plan returns the entire judiciary and justice department to pre-cut funding levels.