January 9, 2018 10:07:36 AM
JACKSON -- When it comes to Mississippi's economy and population growth, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that things aren't so bad.
The Republican, speaking to the Capitol press corps and Mississippi State University's Stennis Institute of Government, said he believes concerns about Mississippi's population loss have been overstated.
"I like to look at the good things that are happening," he said.
The Census Bureau estimated last month that Mississippi's population fell for a third year in a row from mid-2016 to mid-2017, thanks largely to outward migration. Mississippi is the only Southern state besides West Virginia seeing outmigration, and observers have attributed the departures to weak economic opportunities.
Reeves, though, expressed hope that those estimates were undercounting rural and African-American residents.
He also discounted figures showing large shares of college graduates are moving away, saying that's because Mississippi universities are recruiting an increasing number of students from elsewhere.
"I bet you would find that the percentage of in-state students that are staying in state once graduating from college has not changed significantly in 20 years and is right on top of and very near the national average," Reeves said.
A spokeswoman for the lieutenant governor didn't immediately respond Monday to an Associated Press inquiry asking whether Reeves had numbers to back up that statement.
The lieutenant governor agreed that Mississippi does have some disadvantages in competing for young people because of its rural nature. He said that's why he supported a program to divert some state money to build and repair infrastructure in central parts of Jackson, the state's largest city.
Reeves expressed confidence that tax cuts he's championed would help create more jobs in Mississippi and make businesses better able to compete, repeating that making Mississippi welcoming to capital investment is one of his top goals.
"We need economic freedom even more in our state even more today because we need to see the next wave of entrepreneurs to create the next wave of major employers," Reeves said.
Some, especially Democrats, have said they want to roll back or slow down Mississippi tax cuts, but Reeves promised any such move would be "dead on arrival" in the state Senate, which he leads.
He also said increases in state revenue, a low unemployment rate and other measures suggest the state's economy is picking up steam.
Reeves, a Republican, said he wouldn't seek the congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper. Reeves said he supports spending more money on roads and bridges in this year's Legislature, but declined to say what plan he might endorse.
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