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- 33rd Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann revealed their legislative priorities for the next 90 days after gaveling their respective chambers in and out in under half an hour.
Both Republicans are looking to cut the personal income tax with bills that would come out of their own chambers, and both played their cards relatively close to the vest on opening day.
"We will unveil that when we get the final version," Gunn, R-Clinton, said.
Gunn is in favor of repealing the personal income tax entirely, and offsetting lost revenue with a 2.5% increase in the state sales tax. The state's personal income tax accounts for about $2 billion in state revenue. Gunn said he's made changes to the bill he introduced in the 2021 session, but declined to discuss them until the final draft of the 2022 house bill is finished.
Gunn said repealing the income tax is his top priority in 2022.
Hosemann didn't reveal his plan at all, only saying he hopes to pass substantive income tax relief in 2022. He is against increasing any tax, and said his bill would only decrease rates.
"We're not persuaded by a tax swap," Hosemann said.
Gunn said labeling it a tax swap is incorrect because his plan results in a net-effective tax cut.
Medicaid expansion looks unlikely
Gunn called any discussion around Medicaid expansion "academic," and said the votes to expand it don't exist in the Mississippi House of Representatives.
"I just don't think Medicaid expansion is realistic," he said. "Personally, I'm not for it. I've said that very clear."
Hosemann struck a different tone, telling a reporter who asked about it their question was lazy, before saying the state needed to do a better job of making sure Mississippians with full-time employment could access medical care. Hosemann said labeling any increase to healthcare access as Medicaid expansion is out-of-date political language held over from three presidents ago.
Former President Barack Obama gave states the option to expand who was eligible to receive Medicaid benefits under the Affordable Care Act.
While he is hesitant to call it Medicaid expansion, Hosemann is seemingly in favor of it. He said the senate is working on a plan to increase healthcare offerings for working Mississippians who can't afford coverage, but declined to provide any details or say if the plan will be put to a vote in 2022.
"I'm not prepared to discuss that other than I will tell you we're working on that," he said.
Mississippi's doctors and hospitals are in favor of expansion, and State Economist Corey Miller determined in September expanding Medicaid would virtually pay for itself. It's estimated between 228,000 and 233,000 Mississippians who are not currently insured would gain coverage.
Medical marijuana not a priority
After publicly agreeing on a bill and coming together to ask Gov. Tate Reeves for a special session in the fall, Gunn and Hosemann don't seem in a hurry to get the state's medical marijuana program up and running anytime soon.
"Candidly, that's not top issue for us," Gunn said, noting that the senate will be the lead body on medical marijuana issues.
A billion joints? Lawmakers say Tate Reeves is moving the medical marijuana goal posts
Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven is authoring the senate's medical marijuana bill. Efforts to reach Blackwell were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon.
Blackwell previously told the Clarion Ledger he expected the bill to pass early in the session.
Hosemann said the bill is still being tweaked and additional public hearings will have to be held before it goes for a floor vote. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee held two hearings last summer.
A majority of voters approved a medical marijuana program on a ballot initiative in the November 2020 election, but the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled the initiative, and the initiative process, unconstitutional in May.
Gov. Tate Reeves has recently railed against the amount of marijuana a person could possess under the proposed bill. As it stands, a medical marijuana patient could purchase 3.5 grams of cannabis a day.
Teacher pay raises seem imminent
Both chambers are primed to introduce bills that would raise teacher's pay, but neither Hosemann or Gunn said specifically how much they want to raise salaries.
Hosemann said Sen. Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, is devising a new teacher pay scale for the state and is expected to introduce his bill in the coming days. DeBar held a number of hearings on teacher pay throughout the state in 2021.
Both Gunn and Hosemann said they plan to pass some sort of raise early in the 2022 session.
Lee O. Sanderlin is an investigative and political reporter covering the state of Mississippi. Got a story tip? You can call him at 601-559-3857, send it to LSanderlin@gannett.com or message him on Twitter @LeeOSanderlin.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Mississippi legislature outlines priorities: income tax, teacher pay