Written by Jackson Advocate Guest Writer Sen. David Blount
The Senate and House of Representatives have agreed on the biggest teacher pay raise in state history.
I serve as Vice Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and have been working on this issue since last year. After months of negotiations during the session, we announced the details of our plan on March 16. It is a great bipartisan accomplishment for our teachers and public education in Mississippi.
The average raise for teacher will be $5,140 starting with the next school year. All teacher assistants will receive a $2,000 raise. As I write this, the bill is awaiting the governor’s signature and we are optimistic he will sign it into law.
Teachers are essential to a quality education for Mississippi’s future leaders. Competitive pay is required to attract and retain good people in the profession. This historic raise will make teacher pay in Mississippi comparable to our neighboring states.
I am also supporting efforts this session to raise pay for our state employees. Already more than $35 million has been allocated for raises. Decisions on individual salaries will be made at the agency level based on recommendations from the State Personnel Board. With salaries going up in the private sector it is essential state government pay remain competitive. We need to keep good people. In many cases it costs the taxpayers more money to hire private contractors than pay full-time staff.
Of course, education funding and state employee pay comes from the state general fund budget. One-third of that budget – about $2 billion – comes from the state income tax. Republicans in the House of Representatives are pushing a plan to eliminate the state income tax. It is totally reckless and irresponsible.
To put it plainly: Republicans leaders in the House of Representatives are increasing spending and cutting taxes. It is Washington, DC math and here in Mississippi we must balance the budget.
We all know that the economy is experiencing a short-term boost due to federal COVID spending. More than $30 billion in federal money has been pumped into the state since the outbreak of the pandemic. We cannot eliminate a recurring revenue source just because we have a one-time unprecedented windfall. When normal economic conditions return, the House tax plan will devastate the state budget and everything that includes (schools, highways, criminal justice, health care, etc.) for years to come.
We do not need to make major tax changes during a temporary COVID economy. What will happen with regard to tax cuts will dominate the final days of the session.
The legislative session is scheduled to end in two weeks. I hope to have details on some of the major issues in next month’s column.
Thank you again for the opportunity to work for Hinds County in the State Senate. Please let me know if I can help you or your family. You can contact me by email (email@example.com) or by calling my office at the Capitol (601-359-2886). I am also on Facebook and Twitter (@sendavidblount).