Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann covered all the tenses during his visit to Columbus Tuesday, noting the progress made during the 2021 legislative session, which ended on April 1, the plans he is working on presently and looking far beyond the present as state leaders ponder how to spend what he called the greatest infusion of federal money in Mississippi history.
During an hour-long visit with about 75 businessmen, elected officials and educators at Brandon Central Services, Hosemann, in his first term as the leader of the state Senate, covered a wide range of topics, including education funding, workforce participation, health care and criminal justice reform.
With Mississippi set to receive $9 billion from the American Recovery Act, Hosemann said he expects an economic boom in the short term as well as an opportunity to implement improvements that will impact the next generation.
“We’ll receive about $9 billion from the (American) Recovery Act, about $3.4 billion in direct payments to our citizens,” he said. “That’s why we think we’re going to have a very good year. It’s why we raised our budget. We can do a lot of things because that money is going to circulate through the economy. The state is going to get a part of that.”
“Lowndes County got $11.3 million and the city of Columbus got $5.3 million, so it’s up to your county and city officials to decide how to spend it,” Hosemann said. “In addition, the state is getting $1.8 billion. We in the Legislature will have to decide how we are going to spend that money.”
Hosemann said officials at all levels of government must act wisely in spending those funds.
“What is most important for each of us is that we don’t make (those decisions) for a year, but for a generation,” he said.
“How we stretch out this $1.8 billion to the next generation is the thing we’ll be remembered for. If we come in and spend all that next year, we’re all going to feel great and everybody will probably get re-elected, but we haven’t done what we needed to do. That is to make sure we spend this money well, so it can last for the next 5, 10, 20 years.”
Hosemann said this year’s legislative session delivered in two important areas: workforce development and education.
“When you look at moving Mississippi forward, we are going to have to move to a labor participation rate in excess of where we are now,” he said. “Right now our labor participation rate is 55 percent. The national rate is about 61 to 63 percent, so we have some work to do.”
Hosemann said the main driver in that improvement will be in education.
“We are behind and to get us where we need to be, it starts with teachers,” Hosemann said. “The best economic engine we have is the human brain. If we can get somebody trained well enough to get a job, whatever profession it might be, we have in that person an economic engine for 50 years.”
In addition to a bill that will allow for coordinated workforce development programs throughout the state, Hosemann said particular attention was paid to teachers and education.
The Legislature passed a teacher pay raise this year, which cost $51.4 million, and appropriated $8 million for classroom supplies, $8.2 million in additional early childhood education, $5 million for math coaches and $2 million for the state’s teacher loan repayment program.
Addressing health care will also be a priority, Hosemann said.
When asked about his views of Medicaid expansion, Hosemann made it a point to address the subject on his own terms.
“You’ll not hear me talk about (Medicaid Expansion) because that’s a moniker that’s taken on its own reputation,” he said.
“What you will hear me talking about is the delivery of health care. A lot of people start to run to their corners when you start talking about health care, but one way or another, it’s clear to me that we need to start the process of looking at the delivery of health care.”
Hosemann noted that when the Legislature refused to craft legislation for Medical Marijuana two years ago, citizens took the matter into their own hands, resulting in a program Hosemann said has some flaws.
“I would hope it’s a lesson learned,” he said.
The Legislature also passed a criminal justice reform bill that reduces sentences for non-violent offenders who have maintained good discipline records. A similar bill was vetoed by Gov. Tate Reeves last year. Reeves has yet to sign this year’s bill.
“I’m hopeful he’ll do that,” Hosemann said. “I think it’s one of the best criminal justice reform bills in the country.”