A conversation with Sen. David Blount on legislative news
There’s about a month left of the 2017 Mississippi legislative session. District 29 Sen. David Blount recently spoke to Sun Senior Staff Writer Anthony Warren about the session, the status of his bills, and other challenges faced by lawmakers. Blount is a graduate of Davidson College and the Univeristy of Virginia, and is a member of the Mississippi Association of Realtors. He and his wife, Katie, have two children.
The regular session is slated to end April 2.
How is the session going so far?
“We’re a little more than halfway through, and it’s a little too early to tell where we’ll end up. There will be a lot of major decisions to make in the final weeks, so it’s too early to tell.”
How are your bills faring this year?
“As you know, I’ve introduced legislation several times to allow online voter registration and early voting. My bills did not pass out of committee. However, there are still bills alive in the process that would address those issues. I am also optimistic about getting campaign finance passed this year. We’ve got a few important bills coming through the public property committee.”
The governor recently had to make additional budget cuts. It seems like these cuts are always sprung upon us. Could these cuts be anticipated sooner?
“Cuts are made in two ways. The Legislature is now working on the budget for the next fiscal year, which will begin on July 1. There are cuts needed for next year’s budget. In addition, every budget is based on anticipated revenue. For the year we are in now, the revenue was anticipated last year and did not materialize. The state continues to fall short of projected revenue and that’s why the cuts were made (last) week. The Legislature, each year, makes an estimate on how much we will have to spend and appropriates money based on those estimates to complete the budget. when the estimates are off, the governor is forced to make mid-year cuts.”
The total budget is around $6.1 billion. Is that right?
“That’s the general fund. There are two sources of revenue: special funds for specific purposes and general funds. For example, I pay a fee to the Real Estate Commission, because I have a real estate license, and that funds the commission. That money doesn’t go into the general fund, but a special fund. If you buy a gallon of gas, the gas tax funds transportation. That also doesn’t go into the general fund. General funds are taxpayer money, which is the basis for the budget appropriations process.”
Can you give me a status update on the CCID, or “capitol complex improvement district,” legislation?
“The bill that was introduced in the Senate was not a CCID bill and was different than the one that passed in the House. The House bill is alive and waiting action in the Senate. The version I sponsored would create a capital city infrastructure fund, which would have allowed the state to spend money on public infrastructure, but did not include a defined district. Also, there would have been no outside governing board. It gave the state broad latitude to spend the money it collects on public infrastructure that supports state-owned property.”
But that bill, your bill, died?
“It did. I think the concept is still sound. If the House bill gets any traction in the Senate, it just helps to have options. The goal is the same: for the state to take responsiblity for some of the infrastructure in the city of Jackson.”
With the recent budget cuts and revenue shortfalls is there a chance the CCID will pass, but without funding?
“Anything’s possible. I don’t know if I see the point of passing the bill with no funding. Funding is the purpose of the bill. I wouldn’t want to predict what is going to happen, but the purpose of the bill is to get to work on funding infrastructure improvements. If there’s no funding, that’s not going to happen.”
Have you been following the one-percent sales tax issues in Jackson? If so, what are your thoughts?
“I just know what I read in the paper. That’s a municipal function, so I don’t have special insight on that.”
Have you talked to the Hinds County and Jackson delegations regarding how the tax has been implemented? Are there any talks within the delegation to change how the law works?
“We all want to see it work as well as possible. In terms of changing legislation, I don’t think anything has been introduced this year.”
What are the most important issues facing lawmakers this session, in your opinion?
“I think it’s very important that the state pass an infrastructure bill for highways, roads and bridges, and city streets. This is a major issue, and a long-term issue. The other issue hanging out there is what, if anything, is going to happen with the basic formula for funding public K-12 education. There are no bills alive on that topic, but legislative leaders have said they want to address it. They have not offered specifics, but there may be something that comes up in the next month.”
Why does the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) even need to be changed? It’s only been fully funded a few times, so we really don’t even know if the best option out there.
“That’s a very good point. A funding formula does only two things: determines the amount of money and how that money will be allocated to the individual districts. It does not tie the hands of individual districts and force them to spend in specific ways. Again, it’s hard to speculate what the people who want to scrap MAEP are proposing, because no bill has been filed and no information has been provided, other than a consultant’s report. We don’t vote on reports, we vote on bills.”
You recently posted on social media that there are efforts to again cut funding for Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB), this time by around 25 percent. What are the chances of that happening?
“Again, I never want to predict chances. There’s still a good time left in the budget process. I hope we can get MPB’s budget back to where the initial recommendation was, which was a small cut similar to what most other state agencies are looking at for next year. The bill that passed the Senate had a huge cut, and I think it would be very harmful to MPB, but we have some time left to work on it.”
Every year it seems some lawmaker wants to cut funding for MPB, but the funding cuts are never made. Is this just political posturing on the part of some?
“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the people (who are recomending the cuts). I believe MPB is a real asset to our state. I don’t know why there are some who want to shut it down. I think that is short-sighted.”