MONDAY, JAN. 15, 2007

(601) 969-2913

Democratic Party response to
Barbour’s State of the State

JACKSON (Monday, Jan. 15, 2007) – Here is the complete transcript of the Democratic Party response to Gov. Haley Barbour’s State of the State speech. The party response aired on Mississippi Public Broadcasting immediately following Barbour’s speech.

Giving the Democratic Party response are state Sen. Alice Harden of Jackson, who chairs the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee, and state Rep. Cecil Brown of Jackson, who chairs the House Education Committee.

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Sen. Alice Harden: Good evening. I’m Sen. Alice Harden from Jackson.

Rep. Cecil Brown: And I’m Rep. Cecil Brown from Jackson.

Tonight, Mississippi, its residents and leaders find themselves at a critical crossroads, one in which we can chart a clear, productive path for our future or repeat the same missteps of Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and his administration.

We can plan ahead for the future of Mississippi, or we can struggle in mediocrity.

We Democrats in the Mississippi Legislature have a plan – a constructive, aggressive agenda of proposals designed to lead us to that future. These proposals will do everything from improving public schools to letting you keep more of your money in your pocket.

Our agenda is simple. And it will help everyone, including the low income, the middle class and the working men and women of Mississippi. Here at the Capitol, our plans gained momentum last week when the House of Representatives approved several important measures.

House members, under the leadership of Democratic House Speaker Billy McCoy, approved a bill that would set up a new tobacco prevention and cessation program. The proposal is similar to the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi – a highly successful program that Gov. Barbour and other Republicans sought to destroy through unnecessary and expensive litigation.

We also passed bills that would help fund the state’s eight public universities as well as the junior and community colleges. Those included a much-needed 5 percent pay raise for university faculty and staff and significant funding for capital improvements.

We approved a 3 percent across-the-board pay raise for public school teachers. And, more significantly, we fully funded the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the basic funding mechanism for our public schools.

Approving full funding for MAEP, as well as approving the other education bills, sets the tone for the 2007 Legislature. It demonstrates to Gov. Barbour and the rest of the state that education is our top priority.

MAEP is particularly important because it is designed to ensure that all students everywhere in Mississippi, regardless of their economic or social circumstances, receive instruction equivalent to the education they would experience at a mid-level accredited school.

But the fight for education funding is far from over. While the House of Representatives has approved full funding for MAEP in the past, the issue has died in the state Senate after heavy lobbying by Gov. Barbour.

This year, Gov. Barbour has clouded the debate again with conflicting statements about his position on fully funding MAEP. When he released his proposed state budget last year, he opposed fully funding the program calling it an artificial formula. Then in December he said he expects to sign a bill for full funding.

This issue needs your continued, vocal support. Call your legislators. Call the governor. Tell them you want them to fully fund MAEP. It’s time to hold Gov. Barbour to his promise to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.

Harden: And that’s not all.

We have several other Democratic Party issues yet to be debated in the state House and the state Senate.

Once again, Democrats will support efforts to raise the state’s cigarette tax, the lowest cigarette tax in the nation. At the same time, we support eliminating or reducing the state’s 7 percent sales tax on groceries.

Cities currently receive a portion of all sales taxes collected within their city limits. Lawmakers will make sure cities won’t lose any money they need to operate services when the grocery tax is reduced or eliminated.

Why is this tax shift needed? Think about it. Not everyone has to smoke cigarettes – that’s a personal choice. Everyone does, however, buy groceries.

Consider this important fact: A family of four that spends $150 a week on groceries could save $10.50 a week by not paying a sales tax on food. At the end of the year, that family would have saved $546 – enough money to buy almost one month’s worth of additional groceries.

Gov. Barbour vetoed similar tax proposals last year, and Republican lawmakers helped him uphold the veto in the state Senate. Democrats are working hard to make sure this issue passes with enough support to make a veto pointless.

Other issues Democrats support include fully funding the Medicaid program without taxing hospitals and the sick or reducing reimbursements for providers. And Democrats fully support helping low- and moderate-income residents by increasing the minimum wage in Mississippi.

Democrats in the state Senate applaud last week’s votes in the House of Representatives. We also will work to get those measures through the Senate as quickly as possible.

And best of all – we can do everything we have talked about here tonight, including fully funding the MAEP, without an increase in the income tax or general sales tax.

In the upcoming 2007 elections, you, the citizens of Mississippi, have a chance to set a new course for our state. As Democrats we can’t wait until November.

We are tired of watching Gov. Barbour and his administration botch such important issues as the Katrina Homeowners Grant Program that should have quickly funneled millions of dollars in federal aid to storm victims – but hasn’t.

We are tired of the lip service Gov. Barbour regularly gives to public education.

We are sick and tired of the same, old, worn-out rhetoric from Gov. Barbour and his administration.

Democrats in the Mississippi Legislature are ready. We have a plan to move the state forward. We want to help Mississippians have a better life. And we need you to join us in this effort.

Together, we can make Mississippi a better place to live.

Good night and God bless.

Brown: Good night, and thank you for joining us.


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