Senator Hob Bryan (D-Amory) told the Stennis Institute & Capitol Press Corps luncheon on Monday that Democrats should not be worried about increasing education spending this year. He said when Republicans released their budget plans with level funding for education, which he characterized as basically what the Democrats wanted, "I thought the appropriate thing was to declare victory and withdraw."

Bryan said Democrats should instead focus on the budget next year's legislature will consider. He said while that budget will include $200 million less in one-time spending dollars, he is "confident we'll see that [difference made up] in growth." But in order to increase spending for education next year, Bryan said, Democrats should be fighting tax cuts this year which he believes will reduce available funds in the future.

"The real problem we need to be focusing on in education...watch out what they're doing in Ways and Means; watch out for what they're doing in Finance. We need to be focusing on next year's budget now," said Bryan.

Bryan, with more than two decades of legislative service, took aim at what he termed a "scheme" to eliminate inventory taxes on businesses, as well as tax relief on utility bills for churches.

The inventory tax charges businesses at the beginning of each year for the goods and products they have stored or on the shelves. For a business like Target, that means extra cost for everything in the store. If you've ever bought a dusty item in a small town hardware store that has been there for years, chances are it has been taxed every year it was sitting there. Local governments have resisted ending the inventory tax because those dollars - about $133 million a year - go to them rather than the state; and the inventory tax is so embedded into Mississippi's laws, deleting it would be a bureaucratic nightmare. However, Republicans propose to continue charging the tax, but give businesses which pay it a state tax credit, neutralizing it for businesses.



Political friends and foes alike acknowledge Sen. Hob Bryan's masterful use of chamber rules, intellectual agility and passionate rhetoric.



Bryan characterized the off-set as taxing citizens in one place to pay for the inventory tax cut in another. "We just took your tax dollars to pay Walmart's property taxes," he said.

Bryan also criticized an effort to exempt churches from paying the 7 percent sales tax on utility bills. He said it would draw money out of local government coffers and he hopes the Municipal Association will rise up against it. Mississippi Municipal League George Lewis attended the event and said he agreed with everything Bryan said, and his organization was concerned about the church utility tax exemption, but mayors would be running for election next year.

Bryan serves as chair of the Senate Judiciary B Committee and answered questions about the abortion restriction bills and illegal immigration bill currently in his committee. Bryan said Mississippi has "pretty much kept in line with every restriction on abortion that is constitutional" but what the legislature has not previously done is "pass bill after bill after bill" just to show they're willing to vote for pro-life legislation even if it doesn't pass constitutional scrutiny. He said his biggest question on the current legislation is whether the bills would "have any chance to be upheld by the courts."

On illegal immigration, Bryan said the bill basically is about instructing local police how to treat someone when they arrest them. He said he thinks sheriffs, who are elected, are pretty close to local folks and responsive to their needs, and he wonders whether this particular legislation is the best way to handle illegal immigration. The Mississippi Sheriffs' Association and the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police oppose this particular bill on illegal immigration.

An item of trivia: Bryan, an outspoken Democratic leader in the Senate, served as an alternate-delegate to the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach for the re-nomination of President Richard M. Nixon as part of the GOP's "youth outreach." The nineteen-year-old then-Republican joined his support of the Nixon-Agnew ticket with delegates like GOP leaders Clarke Reed, William D. Mounger and Gil Carmichael, as well as the twenty-one-year-old Roger Wicker with whom he would later serve in the state legislature and who now serves in the U.S. Senate. Of course, Mississippians of all types supported Nixon that year with former Democratic Governors John Bell Williams, Ross Barnett and Paul Johnson all endorsing Nixon for re-election. Nixon carried Mississippi with more than 78 percent of the vote including majorities in all but three counties in a national 49-state landslide over Democratic nominee Senator George McGovern.

Forty years later, political friends and foes alike acknowledge Bryan's masterful use of chamber rules, intellectual agility and passionate rhetoric. Democrats and Republicans alike cheer him when in agreement and wince when in opposition, and the media can always count on him for a great quote.



Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.