Miss. GOP faces key issues in 2015


Lance Cheung

Mississippi – Governor Phil Bryant poses a question to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who was the guest speaker at the National Governors Association Education, Early Childhood and Workforce Committee in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Caption: Gov. Phil Bryant/ Lance Cheung

Dems use pivotal topics to challenge incumbents 

Mississippi Republicans have been in charge of both houses of Legislature and the governor’s seat since 2012. However, key issues in the 2015 state elections are expected to challenge Mississippi’s Republican dominated political system.

After Democratic support aided U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran to victory over state Sen. Chris McDaniel in the recent general election, key ballot initiatives for 2015 will be crucial in determining if the GOP will remain in control for the next four years.

One political issue expected to make its way into the 2015 election campaign is the state’s expansion of Medicaid. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is seeking re-election in 2015, has expressed his opposition toward Medicaid expansion due to the current state of the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. altering or doing away with the Affordable Care Act could potentially result in thousands of new Medicaid patients.

In his Executive Budget Recommendation, Bryant claimed that due to the Affordable Care Act, the income eligibility requirements for the Medicaid program have broadened. As a result, Bryant has called for a 14.7 percent increase in Medicaid funding over fiscal year 2015.
“With this increase, along with other factors, the request for state support has exceeded $1 billion for the first time in Mississippi’s history,” Bryant said.

In response, Democrats in favor of Medicaid expansion have argued that Bryant is passing up free money from the federal government. According to an article from Associated Press, “the federal government will pay all expenses for people added under Medicaid expansion. After that, the law says the federal government would pay 90 percent of the cost.”

“A great deal of time and effort has gone into fighting the expansion of a broken Medicaid system that will further reduce access to health care services, especially in rural areas of our state,” said political consultant and Mississippi communication strategist Keith Plunkett. “That fight will continue again in 2015, but it is one we need to have.”

Another potentially pivoting ballot initiative is the full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). MAEP has recently been the subject of several lawsuits against the state by Mississippi public school districts seeking MAEP program reform.

According to The Clarion-Ledger, 21 school districts suing the state over education funding claim that the state owes them the immediate payment of $230 million under the MAEP formula. The school districts claim that the Legislature’s failure to fund the MAEP program is causing “irreparable harm.”
Though the GOP has increased K-12 spending in the past three budget cycles, the failure to fully fund MAEP could present state Democrats with an opportunity to address this issue and gain political support in 2015.

Former Pascagoula city councilman and editor of “Y’all Politics” Frank Corder said that addressing the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi (PERS) and giving taxpayers a break is also likely to be on the 2015 agenda.

PERS, the organization responsible for providing financial pensions to retired Mississippi state workers, has been undergoing a period of recovery from the stock market crash in 2008.

According to an article published in the Laurel Chronicle, “taxpayers contribute more than $900 million annually to PERS, and costs keep on rising. In just 10 years, taxpayer contributions have jumped 60 percent, largely because of the plan’s $15 billion in unfunded liabilities.”

Overall, how effectively the GOP addresses these issues facing Mississippi throughout its 2015 election campaign will ultimately affect the future of Republican control in the state government for the next four years. Key ballot initiatives on the 2015 election agenda present Democrats with an opportunity to regain influence in the state’s Legislature.