Legislature will do better with less

Published 11:17 pm Sunday, January 11, 2009

We entered the 2009 legislative session passing a strong bill that will provide enhanced homestead exemption for senior citizens and those who are totally disabled.

Under current law, the homestead of persons over 65 or totally disabled is exempt from all ad valorem taxes on the first $75,000 of the true value. Senate Bill 2300 will raise the amount of this exemption to $100,000.

The bill also revises the way ad valorem tax increases are calculated after a county or municipality has had an increase in the value of property after reappraisal. The bill provides that if, because of reappraisal, the existing millage of the county or municipality will generate an increase in revenue for the next year, then for purposes of determining whether the levy for the next year is an increase or whether the increase falls within the statutory 10 percent revenue increase limitation, the county or municipality must reduce the proposed millage rate to an amount that will produce the amount of ad valorem tax revenue that the county collected in the year before the reappraisal is implemented. The county must use that reduced millage rate as the basis for determining if an increase has occurred that needs to be advertised as required by law or whether the 10 percent revenue growth limitation has been exceeded. The county or municipality may increase taxes within the cap limitation using the lowered millage rate as a starting point.

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Next, Senate Bill 2300 goes to the House of Representatives for approval.

Our priorities will clearly revolve around doing more with less.

Though meetings were informal this week, we know that state revenues are more than $65 million below our early estimates. It is uncertain how low revenues will drop.

As a result, we await word from the governor in coming days on what additional cuts he plans to make.

Already, there have been more than 4,500 open job positions frozen in order to save the state over $79 million.

A main issue the legislature still faces is fully funding Medicaid. A cigarette tax will be voted on as a means to do this.

Some committee chairmen also anticipate not looking favorably on tax increases sought by certain counties and municipalities because we don’t want to further burden our constituents during these tough economic times.

We do however, expect to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program like we have for the past two years.

Along the lines of education, we expect there to be discussions on extending current legislation that allows creation of charter schools for those parents who consider it an alternative to traditional public education.

This week we approved creation of a Senate Drug Policy Committee that will develop legislation intended to help strengthen laws where needed and to bolster the state’s efforts at getting control of the drug problems that fuel crimes in our communities and destroy families of those who are affected by the use of substances.

This week the senate saw the fruit of our labor when we convened in the Old Capitol on Tuesday.

It was a historic day for our state as it marked only the second time that the legislature was convened in the historic structure, with the first being for the inauguration of former Gov. William Winter on Jan. 22, 1980, my first year in the Senate. The building was constructed in 1839 and housed all branches of government until 1903. The Old Capitol suffered significant damage in 2005 from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and was repaired with $16.5 million appropriated by the legislature in 2006.

As the senate moves forward throughout the session, be assured that all will be done to give constituents better service with fewer tax dollars.

Bob Dearing is a state senator representing Adams County.