By State Senator Bill Stone, District 10
Chairman, Senate Democratic Caucus

As the 2017 Legislative Session came to an abrupt close on Wednesday, we are left with unfinished business, unanswered questions and revenue collections drowning in red ink. Infighting between the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate has resulted in three agencies without budgets, no state bond bill for important repair and renovation projects, no grant programs for small cities and counties, no monies for rural fire trucks, and nothing for other important programs that benefit our state and citizens or address our critical transportation infrastructure needs.

We were able to pass some good legislation — adding domestic abuse as grounds for divorce, limiting volatility in tax assessments on agricultural property, creating the “Capitol Complex Improvement District” to help the City of Jackson maintain infrastructure near the Capitol and state agencies. We worked to improve transparency in government through campaign finance reform and by requiring governmental entities’ special meeting notices to be published on the Internet. We tried to increase citizen participation in elections by fine-tuning certain election laws.

Even with a few successes, the legislative leadership’s affinity for big business and out-of-state corporations continues. The “Asbestos Transparency Trust Act,” based on model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), significantly increases the burden on sick and dying Asbestos claimants and tilts the playing field in favor of the out-of-state asbestos trusts and defense attorneys. HB1090, another ALEC bill, creates a new class of contracts to review DHS and Medicaid recipients to detect ineligible beneficiaries. This type of review can easily be done by those agencies without the need for million-dollar outside contracts.

I appreciate how the Republican leadership in the Senate has listened to our concerns, communicated openly and honestly about our differences but, overall, the 2017 Legislative Session is nothing that any of us can be proud of.
Many long-time members and observers in the Capitol commented on this year’s budget, with the overwhelming consensus that this was the worst year in modern times. Critical state agencies were slashed 3, 5, 8 to over 10 percent, mainly due to compounding corporate tax cuts over the last several years.

In the coming months, our most vulnerable family members, friends and neighbors will be the first to be impacted by the cuts resulting from the revenue crisis created by the Republican-led legislature and the sluggish economy fostered by over a decade of Republican governors and their economic policies. Mental Health Services, Health Department Services and Rehabilitation Services will all suffer. Those in need of vital mental health services will endure long waiting lists or, worse yet, end up sitting in county jails due to the lack of capacity brought on by this lack of funding. Restaurant inspections may not be as timely or as thorough; you may have to hire an engineer to approve your septic system before you build or sell your home, costing up to $1,500 as opposed to the $100 fee charged by MSDH. Elderly Mississippians now able to live at home because of waiver programs could find themselves forced into nursing homes, ironically costing the State untold millions more through the Medicaid program. And, that is just the tip of the State’s Fiscal iceberg, all because the one thing that Mississippi’s Republican legislative leaders could agree on is that corporate tax cuts are more important than the vital services that everyday Mississippians depend on… and that is sad.