The cornerstone of this year’s legislative session, as far as Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn is concerned, involves repealing the income tax in Mississippi. He estimates that doing so would put about $1100 back into the budgets of typical Mississippi families, which he expects they would put to use purchasing the things they want instead of having to spend it on the things the government wants. The majority of the House agreed: Gunn’s bill went through to the Senate on a 96-12 vote. However, progress has stalled in the Senate, whose leaders have expressed concern that completely eliminating the tax would leave too big a hole in the state budget.
Some residents find the tax cut alluring. I met a gentleman at a soccer tournament last weekend who maintains Oklahoma citizenship–he can do this as a member of the Air Force–so that he won’t have to pay the income tax here.
Interestingly, most business leaders find greater security in workforce training and development than in cutting the income tax. The premise put forward by the Mississippi Economic Counsel is that we should spend money retooling our educational system to make young people in Mississippi more prepared to find employment in our state’s increasingly technology oriented workforce. Forget Spanish or French or literary analysis. They want our kids to learn programming so that they can tell the robots on the floor of a steel fabrication assembly what to do. The MEC also believes that if we spend wisely on education, we can rehabilitate the state’s image to the point that brain drain will no longer plague us–that our best and brightest youths will want to stay here for their careers and to raise families rather than fleeing to New York, Nashville, or Atlanta.
I’m not certain that workforce development alone can plug Mississippi’s brain drain problem. But here’s the thing: the GOP has long aligned itself as the party that looks out for the interests of businesses. The disagreement between Republicans in the House and the leaders of the MEC reveals a subtle split: does the modern GOP want government to fund educational programs that entice businesses to invest and youths to stay, or does it want government to do as little as possible?