Can Mississippi afford to raise teacher salaries and eliminate income tax?

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Below is a column of political analysis by Adam Ganucheau:

Teachers across the state are struggling to separate proposals for teacher salary increases and income tax cuts. Can we afford to do both?

Remember mid-January, when seemingly all legislative leaders could do was sing the praises of public school teachers as they offered historic pay raises?

House and Senate leaders received widespread praise from public education groups in January for passing proposals that would not only offer short-term raises, but increase the pay scale for teachers in the long term. .

But since then lawmakers have largely devoted their time and energy to reducing or eliminating the state income tax, which generates billions in revenue that helps pay teachers’ salaries, among many other services. essential audiences.

Teachers across the state are struggling to separate proposals for teacher salary increases and income tax cuts.

“The song lawmakers have always sung was that we can’t fund APRM (the state’s public education funding formula) because we don’t have the money. Now they’re using all that extra money to justify the income tax cut? It doesn’t add up,” said Cagney Weaver, a national board-certified teacher at Biloxi Upper Elementary. “I really think there are good intentions in wanting to pay teachers more and we’ll see what happens with those bills. But why don’t they talk more about how cutting income tax could undermine the state budget and prevent them from paying us later? »

As rows between House and Senate leaders over proposed tax cuts continue to escalate, lawmakers face a critical March 1 deadline to decide what to do with the pay hike teachers. And educators, who are watching closely this week, fear teachers’ salaries could potentially be taken amid the fight against tax cuts.

“There’s such a long way to go before anything meaningful is done for teachers,” Weaver said. “And what reason have lawmakers ever given us to feel optimistic about all of this?”

A year ago today, House and Senate leaders were publicly arguing over a major tax cut proposal. They faced the first major deadline to deal with bills from the opposite chamber, and because of the wrangling, many bills died quietly without a vote or even debate. Among the legislation caught up in the fight: a pay rise for public school teachers.

Today, House and Senate leaders are publicly arguing over a major tax cut proposal. They face the first major deadline to deal with bills from the opposite chamber, and because of the bickering, Capitol watchers fear many bills will die quietly without a vote or even debate. Among the legislation caught up in the fight: a pay rise for public school teachers.

But for a last-second saving last year by Senate leaders, the teacher pay raise would have died on deadline day because House Speaker Philip Gunn was upset at the lack of Senate support. to his tax reduction plan.

Much of this session looks and feels the same as last year. Both chambers have again passed their own teacher pay increase bills – although this year’s proposals are much bigger and would change the pay structure in future. The Senate plan would increase annual teacher compensation spending by $210 million, while the House plan would increase annual teacher compensation spending by $219 million. Either proposal, if passed, would represent one of the largest public school teacher salary investments in decades.

But as lawmakers in both chambers consider reducing or eliminating the state’s second source of revenue, are these investments sound and can be secured for the long term?

Gunn, like last year, is expending great political energy to eliminate the income tax cut altogether, which could result in $1.5 billion less a year in collected income. Hosemann, in response to Gunn, introduced a much smaller income tax cut, but one that could still result in $317 million less per year in collected income.

Hosemann says Gunn’s plan is fiscally irresponsible in the long run, and Gunn says Hosemann’s plan doesn’t go far enough. The resentment of House and Senate leaders over their dueling tax cut proposals is growing by the hour.

This fight has many Capitol watchers fearing that this deadline means the death of many bills. Teachers are worried about their pay rise bill, although teachers’ pay seems unlikely to die this week. But it’s very possible lawmakers will choose to kill one of two pending teacher compensation proposals — a prospect that has many educators on edge.

And even if the pay raise survives this week, teachers in Mississippi will remain apprehensive about the financial uncertainty of an impending tax cut. All of these thoughts and feelings are just part of the long-standing sentiment among so many public school teachers that lawmakers are not in their corner.

“If Mississippi can’t afford to fully fund public schools and pay teachers the average Southeast, we can’t afford an income tax cut. It’s as simple as that,” wrote Nancy Loome of the public education advocacy group The Parents’ Campaign last week. “…Legislators tell teachers they can’t afford to bring teachers’ salaries up to the Southeast average, tell parents they can’t afford to fully fund their public schools, and tell kids they can’t afford to honor the Building Fund that would help fix moldy classrooms and broken bathrooms in their schools.

As the Capitol podium heats up, all teachers can do is wait and see if they’ll get the support they’ve been asking for for years.

“Every session is another disappointment in some way,” Weaver said. “Our districts and our schools are doing such a good job with what we have, but it’s not sustainable. Jackson people need to do better for us. It’s that simple.”

— Article credit to Adam Ganucheau of Mississippi Today —


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