State Chamber: Business cares about labor, not state income tax | News
As the state’s legislative leadership is engrossed with reducing or eliminating income taxes, the state’s business community views the lack of skilled workers, Mississippi’s image, and issues of the pandemic as far more pressing issues.
“…Mississippi’s fiscal environment was not highly publicized or even meaningfully discussed as a priority,” said a report released Wednesday by the Mississippi Economic Council at the state Capitol, based on dozens meetings and hundreds of surveys of business leaders across the state. Last year. “…A businessman brought it up (in a meeting) and dismissed it as a bad idea (a distraction problem, but not really a hindrance for most businesses).”
MEC released the report, “Securing Mississippi’s Future,” on Wednesday after hosting 51 town hall-style forums with business and community leaders across the state and multiple sectors from July through September of last year. The income tax issue was not even raised in a meeting until late August, according to the report.
“There was the thought (eliminating income tax) might drive up other costs and it might hurt the state budget and households,” the report said.
But state lawmakers on Capitol Hill have focused on reducing or eliminating state income taxes, and Republican leaders in the House and Senate have fought over competing plans. The House wants a massive tax overhaul that would include the elimination of state income tax for about a decade and an increase in sales taxes. The Senate has a more modest plan of small income tax cuts over four years.
This is not the first time business leaders have thrown cold water on legislative pressure on income tax cuts. During the summer hearings, MEC’s president told lawmakers it’s not a major business priority, but some fear it could have unintended consequences. Other industry representatives expressed concern or opposition at the time.
According to the new MEC report, the top issues “by far” among the state’s business leaders were a lack of workers, Mississippi’s image — and the need to better market the state and stop the “brain drain” – and the problems caused by the pandemic. The report noted that the meetings and investigations were taking place during a spike in COVID-19 cases, likely contributing to the high rating for this issue.
“In every community – without exception – the number one problem has been identified as the ‘lack of skilled workers,’ the MEC report states. “…The number one problem facing growth in Mississippi can be summed up easily : there are not enough qualified workers for the current jobs, and even those who wish to enter the labor market are not prepared for the task at hand.”
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn attended a Capitol press conference on Wednesday where MEC announced its report and the “following goals to chart a bold course for Mississippi.”
Gunn, who said eliminating the state income tax was the top priority of his political career, did not mention the effort, but said lawmakers focused on the improved workforce development. He said last summer he met a national “site selector” who helps businesses choose where to locate and asked him what he was looking for in the selection.
“He said number one was the workforce – a skilled, educated, reliable and trained workforce,” Gunn said.
Hosemann, who has been more cautious about tax cuts and reluctant to eliminate income tax as Gunn proposes, said: “The best workforce development we have is a child educated.”
Leaders across the state said there was a skills gap among Mississippi graduates and that better collaboration was needed between business, high schools and post-secondary schools. Those interviewed by MEC strongly supported financial incentives to keep Mississippi high school and college graduates in the state.
Expanding broadband and improving road and bridge infrastructure are topics frequently discussed by business leaders, the report says.
The MEC report also said that, with the exception of those working for hospitals, medical centers and nursing homes, Medicaid expansion “has received surprisingly little attention” as a topic among CEOs. Although the report states, “There was unanimous agreement that health care is 100% a workforce issue.
Those pushing Medicaid expansion in Mississippi had hoped that MEC and its business leaders would join the expansion push. Last year, MEC President Scott Waller said he expected MEC to take a position on Medicaid expansion and make policy recommendations before the 2022 legislative session that began in January.
On Wednesday, Waller said access to health care is still an issue for the business world, but for now, MEC’s goal would be to “work on ways to improve access to care with the system that we currently have.