Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves joked the turn out at the Stennis-Capitol Press Luncheon for his first appearance there as Lieutenant Governor showed a much larger turnout than when he spoke with the group as Treasurer.

I recall one meeting - held I believe at Galloway Methodist Church in downtown Jackson - where Reeves spoke to less than a dozen people, including a couple of print reporters and his staff.

Monday afternoon at the Capital Club in Jackson, the turnout was much different as a packed room of reporters (print, television, etc), lobbyists, elected officials, political operatives and interested members of the public gathered to listen to the new head of the state Senate. Reeves teased he was not as nervous speaking to the press this time as he was recently at the Mississippi Press Association's Roast of Reeves last month, when he had to follow the entertaining anecdotes and ribbing of Sen. Terry Brown of Columbus.

Reeves outlined his major legislative agenda pieces: job creation, education, government efficiency, accountability and transparency, optimizing state services, fiscal conservatism and the Child Protection Act. He said his agenda ultimately impacts job creation because, "Government does not create jobs, it simply creates an environment for the business sector to invest capital and create jobs."

"We must increase funding for public schools," he said, but he wants to go further. He advocated charter schools with an independent commission to grant the charter, charter applicants with a proven track record and a policy where the money follows the child. He also wants to begin school district consolidation by combining the three school districts in Sunflower County - all of which are currently in state conservatorship - into one district. Reeves said this would provide an additional $800,000 in savings to Sunflower schools a year. That agenda item moved quickly through the Senate, passing the Education Committee the day after Reeve's speech and passing the full Senate on Wednesday morning. The consolidation legislation now moves to the House for consideration. Reeves also wants to move toward all appointed superintendents rather than the current mix of elected and appointed officials.


'I'm against raising taxes on anybody, so why would I spend time talking about anything that's not going to happen? We're not
raising taxes.'


In government reform areas, Reeves advocates a change in the method of presenting bills that will show better the deleted text in legislation and amendments. He supports the Attorney General Sunshine Act which would, among other things, allow state agencies to hire and pay outside counsel when they disagree with the legal pursuits of the Attorney General on behalf of their agency, and would require the Attorney General to notify an agency in advance before pursuing a lawsuit on its behalf. A version of that legislation was approved by the House Judiciary-A Committee on Tuesday.

Reeves wants procurement reforms to allow the Department of Finance and Administration to award statewide contracts for services to seek lower costs.

On spending, Reeves would like the Legislature to return to the 98 percent rule to provide a 2 percent buffer between spending and revenue estimates, and he seeks changes to "reign in our credit card spending" - bonded indebtedness. He said the state currently pays $450 million on debt principle and interest a year and that is $450 million that "can't go to education...can't go to law enforcement." He said we must decide if long-term benefits outweigh short-term costs in bonding decisions.

Reeves closed in saying he expects a form of the Child Protection Act to pass the Senate. Similar legislation passed the House of Representatives last week on a vote of 106-9.

When asked about raising state revenue, Reeves was emphatic, "I'm against raising taxes on anybody, so why would I spend time talking about anything that's not going to happen? We're not raising taxes."

Reeves was also questioned on whether he agreed with Gov. Phil Bryant's proposal to level fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) using $73 million in local school district reserves. Reeves said, "It is impossible for us to make decisions on splitting up the pie until we know how big the pie is." He said three budget proposals have been submitted in the past two months: the Joint Legislative Budget Committee recommendation in December, and two executive budget recommendations: one from former Gov. Haley Barbour in December before leaving office, and another by now Gov. Bryant in January. Reeves did mention "a lot of these reserve funds are in districts who properly and appropriately manage their budgets" and he didn't want to "punish" districts who have been "good stewards of taxpayers' dollars."

Senate and House leadership appear to be on the same page on several policy initiatives, but the session has three months to go with redistricting and a budget to complete. But a good place to follow the activities at the Capitol continues to be this luncheon, held twice a month during session and monthly out of session by the Capitol Press Corps and Mississippi State University's Stennis Institute of Government. The next event is Feb. 20 at noon and it is open to the public. Registration costs $20 which includes lunch.

Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC and a columnist for the Madison County Journal. Contact him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or follow him @CapstonePerry on Twitter.