Tim Johnson said he wants to focus on improving three items if he wins his election in November.
The Democratic Lt. Governor candidate said he wants to see expanded Medicaid, work on Mississippi’s road and bridge infrastructure and full funding for the state’s schools.
Johnson stopped in Columbus Wednesday afternoon as part of a tour of the state that also included stops in Clay and Oktibbeha counties.
“The lieutenant governor is the most powerful position in the state of Mississippi,” Johnson said. “The lieutenant governor sets the policy and the direction of the state. The lieutenant governor puts chairmen on committees and he runs the senate on those committees.”
Johnson spent a significant amount of his stop, which lasted about 20 minutes, expressing his support for fully funding Mississippi’s schools and, specifically, Initiative 42.
Initiative 42 is a ballot proposal that will go before voters in November that says the legislature “must fund an adequate and efficient system” for public schools through the 12th grade. Proposed funding for the measure, if approved, would come from a portion of future increases in general fund revenue over the next seven years.
During his campaign stop, Johnson said he believes it’s important for Mississippi to invest in education.
“Two hundred thousand Mississippians have signed a petition that they want the schools fully funded,” Johnson said. “I want to make sure our schools have the resources they need to educate our leaders of tomorrow — our children. We also need to make sure our teachers and teachers’ assistants are fully paid. If we value education, we must fully fund education.”
Johnson also called Initiative 42A — a legislative counter initiative to mandated funding in Initiative 42 — an effort to “confuse” voters.
Johnson went on to criticize current Lt. Governor Tate Reeves after District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks asked about Reeves threatening to cut funding for certain departments if Initiative 42 is passed.
Johnson said Reeves should not use his power to intimidate state leaders. He went on to say he doesn’t agree with Initiative 42 opponents — including Reeves — who say passing the measure will force budget cuts in other areas.
“This year our schools were underfunded by $200 million,” he said. “As a former supervisor, we all know that when a state does not fully fund our schools, that is passed on to our cities and our counties.
“Our governor wanted to pass a $1.7 billion tax cut, and I think the Lieutenant governor wanted to pass a $1.2 billion tax cut,” Johnson later added. “But when they wanted to pass those cuts, the sky wasn’t falling. Nothing was going to happen — I believe that what they’re saying is a scare tactic.”
Healthcare and Infrastructure
Johnson also spoke about his support for expanded Medicaid.
He said whether Mississippians agree with President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act or not, it’s “the law of the land” and doesn’t make sense to turn down federal money to expand Medicaid.
“For our leaders to turn their backs on billions of dollars that could flow into the state that could help our rural hospitals and protect our professional healthcare providers and sick and elderly, it just doesn’t make any sense to me,” Johnson said.
Johnson said expanding healthcare in the state could produce up to 20,000 new jobs.
He went on to talk about the need to invest in Mississippi’s road infrastructure. Johnson pointed to his eight years as a supervisor in Madison County as a source of experience for how to efficiently distribute funds for improving the state’s roads and bridges.
“We have to look at the future and the future is this — we have to build new roads,” he said. “As we build new roads we create economic and commercial development that’s going to create jobs in this state.”
‘You don’t hold on to something that’s holding you back’
When asked, Johnson said he supports changing Mississippi’s state flag.
He said he opposed the change in 2001, when Mississippians voted nearly 2-to-1 to keep the current flag. However, he said his views have changed in the years since and, if given the chance, he would vote for a new one.
“My mamma has a saying that you don’t hold onto something that’s holding you back,” he said. “What I want to do is move this state forward. I’ve said if there’s another vote on this flag, my vote will be against the state flag, and I think it’s time this state move forward.”
Johnson said his support for a new flag would come in part to allow Mississippi universities such as Mississippi State and Ole Miss to host postseason events. Mississippi State hosted a regional in the 2013 NCAA Baseball tournament, and Ole Miss hosted one in 2014. However, in 2001 the NCAA imposed a ban on NCAA Championship events at predetermined sites in states that fly the Confederate flag. Mississippi’s current flag includes the Confederate battle flag.
The change has prevented the state from hosting potential football bowls, March Madness basketball games and other similar pre-selected events.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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