State lawmakers talk about priorities ahead of 2018 legislative session

State lawmakers talk about priorities ahead of 2018 legislative session

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - About 200 coast business, education, and community leaders have a better idea about what to expect in the 2018 legislative session. The Coast Chamber hosted the annual pre-legislative briefing Tuesday morning at the Golden Nugget Resort in Biloxi.

Six lawmakers, including two state senators and four state representatives, answered and discussed pre-submitted questions.

Funding for education is always a hot topic in Jackson. Rep. Sonya Williams of Gulfport supports more funding.

"Education funding definitely needs to go up," Williams said. "We must invest in our children. Education is the sharpest tool in the toolbox for economic growth."

Some feel more targeted spending is needed, not just overall increases. One of them is Sen. Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula.

"It's about looking at the programs that are working and putting money to that.  Like the early education programs that we've done which are leading the nation," Wiggins explained.

Once again, the $6 billion state budget will be a challenge, according to Rep. Greg Haney of Gulfport.

"Hopefully by the end of the session, the first quarter revenues may pick up, which means there might be a little more money there. But again, we're being very cautious," Haney said.

The state's road and bridges are a mess. Will the state's gasoline tax, 18 and a half cents for the past 30 years, be increased?  Rep. Charles Busby of Pascagoula would support that.

"Gasoline usage, the consumption has gone up a little. Cars are getting better gas mileage now, so it's more miles on our roads. It absolutely takes more money to maintain them," Busby said.

Others, like Sen. Michael Watson, say not so fast.

"You look at the spending that we do as a state, with MDOT for public relations and other things. We're not focusing our money where the needs are," Watson explained.

One thing they all agree on, millions in BP Restore Act money needs to be spent on the coast, to repair the economic damage from the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf. That's the word from Rep. Scott Delano of Biloxi.

"I don't know if anyone is ready to put a percentage on it, but we're going to fight for most of the money, if not all of the money and try and find a solution to get it passed through both chambers in the legislature," DeLano promised.

The lawmakers also hope there will be less partisan, political in-fighting during the next go-round. The legislature convenes in Jackson next month.

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