Smith speaks about his plans for 2014 session

Published 7:00 am Saturday, January 4, 2014

Mississippi State Sen. Tony Smith plans on targeting education reforms, scrutinizing gasoline taxes, the hiring of more state troopers and attracting more industry in the upcoming 2014 legislative session.

Smith, who serves District 47, which includes Harrison, Jackson, Pearl River and Stone Counties, says he is prepared and eager to start the new session.

“In regards to education, I have made my stance, along with Sen. Hill, on Common Core curriculum known,” said Smith. “ In addition to my support of Sen. Hill’s efforts, I’m reintroducing the all elected school board / appointed superintendent bill.

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“I have realized that a school board has a greater amount of taxing authority and when someone is appointed to that board, they don’t have to really answer directly to the people for their decisions. They have a buffer of sorts with council members and the mayor who appointed them.

“I have seen a lot from all over the United States and a majority of our 50 states, 46 states to be exact, have elected school board members. It gives the people who vote more of a voice in school government. I want people to have more say in the direction of their schools.”

Smith said he has heard the voice of those that feel that no one of expertise or real qualifications would campaign for the school board seats.

“I believe that we have good people who run in other elected positions and we will see the same with the school board. Both the governor and lt. governor fully support this bill. It will be a monumental bill for Mississippi.

“ Another point is that there are about 15 subcategories in how you can serve on a school board. County positions have six years and municipal has five years. Agriculture high schools have four years to serve. Since all of the schools are being graded and we are comparing, in my opinion all schools should be joined in comparison points, where they are currently fractured and be on the same playing field.”

The second thing Smith intends to address is a discussion of increasing the gasoline tax in Mississippi.

“Part of our discussion is the question of whether we are truly in a situation where we are not bringing in money to maintain our infrastructure of roads. We are currently in the top 10 when it comes to highways. I want to maintain that ranking, but I’m not sure we can add 18 to 20 cents towards purchase of gas to maintain that without hurting the residents. Before we go raising taxes we need to have a full accounting of how current funds are being spent.

“I’m advocating streamlining processes and repurposing assets we have. Let’s look at being efficient and we are doing things that is effective. This may mean getting with bridge and road builders for their input and expertise.”

Smith also feels strongly that more state troopers are needed for expedient response time to incidents and increased revenue for Pearl River County.

“I would like to see a trooper school,” Smith said. “Granted, schools are expensive. I believe it is estimated that a school costs around 6.9 million dollars. It is funded through the state and the money would have to be appropriated.

“We are currently in a situation where the state troopers are spread increasingly thin and this leaves it up to the sheriff’s department to assist at accidents until a trooper is able to get to the scene.”

Smith said that the troopers do a great job but with limited personnel, but there is a need for higher numbers to lower response times and allow sheriff’s officers to focus on their responsibilities. Troopers are unable to either allow transfers from other law enforcement departments or take on new hires prior to a school being held.

“We have to have a school before people can apply and stop filling the gap the sheriff’s department,” Smith said. “Jackson County gets approximately one million dollars in revenue from trooper citations. Pearl River County is missing out on this. I am not advocating that they go out and just write a lot of tickets, but the missed revenue is a valid point. Also, just being present and maintaining visibility will be a great enhancement to people traveling the highways.”

Finally, Smith plans to focus on issues that will keep the state attractive to relocating industries and businesses.

“We have reduced inventory tax and while the flood insurance regulations are a federal thing, we are going to do our best to do the best for our state. I want to do everything possible to keep us in the forefront of relocating or expanding industries.”

Smith added, “We believe the people know best and our job as elected members of legislature is to get with our people and represent them the best we can.”