During Mississippi’s 2022 legislative session, historic opportunities for growth and equity abound. Lawmakers are entering the session with approximately $4.2 billion extra to spend.
Our state could use this money to address long-standing needs that put our people and communities on an upward trajectory by funding quality schools, affordable health care, safe neighborhoods, affordable housing and solid infrastructure.
But one thing that should be off the table is eliminating the state individual income tax―a tax cut that overwhelmingly benefits the state’s wealthiest and further shifts the state’s tax burden to lower- and middle-income earners in Mississippi.
State lawmakers should use this opportunity to prioritize long-term investments that foster a better future for all Mississippians.
First, Fully Fund Public Education
Public education in Mississippi has been fully funded only twice since 1997. Recommended spending on public and higher education for the current fiscal year, which began in July 2021, will be lower than the previous fiscal year.
This means public education in Mississippi remains underfunded, even with the extra money, and more Mississippi families will continue to shoulder the burden of higher education costs. The same holds true for health care, infrastructure and other services throughout the state. Critical public services our communities rely on, which benefit all Mississippi residents, remain underfunded. It would be unwise for state lawmakers to spend the revenue surplus on tax cuts for the wealthy.
Along with the surplus, state and local recovery funds from the American Rescue Plan Act provide an opportunity for state lawmakers to create an even better Mississippi. Federal lawmakers intended for state and local lawmakers to use the recovery funds to help with pandemic recovery and address disparities in health care and economic outcomes that low-income communities, communities of color and tribal communities face due to the pandemic.
This one-time federal stimulus has the potential to grow our economy, strengthen our communities and make our state a place where all Mississippians can thrive. But if state lawmakers eliminate the state individual income tax now, they will undercut the true intent of the funds, and we will miss a significant opportunity to meet the state’s most pressing needs and build for our future.
‘Opportunity … to Fund Our Future’
The income tax is the only tax in Mississippi that makes the wealthy pay a larger share than the poor. Getting rid of it would make our tax code less fair while robbing our state of the resources it needs to fund our future. Instead of prioritizing a tax cut that benefits the few, state lawmakers should consider using this historic opportunity to create new, transformative investments that benefit all Mississippians.
During the 2022 legislative Session, state lawmakers will redraw state legislative districts and likely address ARPA spending, Medicaid expansion, teacher pay raises, medical marijuana and more. To the extent that state lawmakers also want to address tax reform, they should focus on reforms that center on equity and help decrease race and gender income disparities.
State lawmakers should use this opportunity to enact reforms that compel everyone to pay their fair share of taxes, by strengthening—not eliminating—the state income tax. They could also eliminate or reduce the state sales-tax rate on groceries and adopt tax credits targeted to low-income people, such as a refundable state-earned income-tax credit.
Now is the opportunity for state lawmakers to fund our future by enacting equitable tax and budget policies to raise revenue and help lead to true, sustainable economic growth. Cutting taxes now would cost us a profound opportunity, reduce the state’s ability to meet the needs of our communities, and escalate long-term harm to our economy and working families.
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to [email protected]. We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.