At the Capitol

MEC priority issues capitol jpg

January 22, 2018 - Within the first three weeks of the 2018 legislative session, two key issues have already garnered a lot of attention. The Mississippi House of Representatives has already passed measures dealing with transportation funding and the state’s education funding formula.

Over the past three years, MEC has been at the lead in working to improve funding in order to address the needs of roads and bridges at both the state and local level. In the first week of the session, the House introduced several options for funding.

Of those, House Bill 722 calls for a diversion of 35 percent of the use tax collected by the state to be used for repair, maintenance and reconstruction of roads, streets and bridges at the local level. The 35 percent would be split three ways, 15 percent given to municipalities, 15 percent given to counties and five percent given to a grant program administered by the Mississippi Development Authority to assist the municipalities and counties with improvements.

It is estimated that approximately $108 million would be directly allocated for infrastructure needs at the local level. Under this legislation, none of the funding would be used to address the needs of the state transportation system. The bill passed by a vote of 118-0.

 

Other transportation bills already considered by the House include:

  • Allowing any growth of the general fund over 2 percent to be used for transportation repair and maintenance. HB 354 has passed in the House and been sent to the Senate for consideration.
  • Removing the Mississippi Department of Transportation from the State Personnel Board, in hopes of providing flexibility over personnel issues. HB 355 has passed the House and been sent to the Senate for consideration.
  • Providing $50 million in bonds for bridge repair at the local level. HB 357 has been sent to the Senate for Consideration.

Going into the session, both House and Senate leaders have said addressing the state’s education funding formula would be a priority. During the 20 years that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program has been in existence, it has only been funded twice. Legislative leaders studied the issue last year, and upon recommendations from the consulting group EdBuild, have said the goal is to create a student-based funding approach.

The House passed its version of a new funding formula on Thursday. The Mississippi Uniform Per Student Funding Formula would replace the current MAEP formula. Under House Bill 957 school funding allocation would be based upon student enrollment rather than teacher units. The bill calls for a base cost of $4,800 per student with additional weights added for students with individual needs, such as special education, gifted, low income and English language learners. The House’s version of the education formula ultimately passed after a long debate by a vote of 66 to 54.

Both bills have been held on a motion to reconsider, and could still face further debate before being sent to the Senate for consideration.