Simmons touts success of legislative session
by Paisley Boston
Apr 20, 2014 | 3950 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sen. Willie Simmons said Mississippi has made some positive changes during this fiscal year and he is pleased to have aided in the process.

"Overall, I think the Mississippi Delta had a great year during this legislative session," said Simmons.

The legislative session ends June 30.

"We were able to get a pay raise for teachers and state employees who make under $30,000 and a pay raise for teachers – I was very pleased about this," he added.

Senators passed a plan that would give teachers an additional $1,500 beginning July 1 and another $1,000 a year later.

"We now have incentives for individual schools to work as a team to improve because the third part of the pay raise will be money given based on the number of students in the system," said Simmons.

Mississippi lawmakers last increased teachers' base pay during the 2007 election-year session, although teachers since then have received built-in "step" increases based on their experience and academic degrees.

Mississippi had the second-lowest average teacher pay in the nation in 2013 at $41,994, above only South Dakota, according to the National Education Association.

"There will be $100 for each student and those dollars will be utilized by a local committee for each school to determine whether the teachers will be able to get additional funding and it is not just for the teachers, it is for the janitors and everyone else in that particular school," she added.

Simmons said the incentive money could also be used for supplies or anything else that may be needed to help improve the educational system.

As a result of getting the incentive budget passed, over the next two years the teachers are going to get a $2,500 pay raise.

"We were not able to give all state employees a pay raise but at least we were able to give those that make under $30,000, an across the board pay raise," continued Simmons.

He also said he was very pleased with the progress that has been made with Mississippi's transportation system.

"Being chairman of on the Highway Transportation board and budget committee, I am happy that we were able to get an extra lane for the Grammy Museum. We were able to get money for this project and that is going to be taken care of," he added.

"A lot of 18 wheelers were not able to go under the bypass on U.S. Highway 82 to Greenville and Leland which led to a loss in potential fuel sales," said Simmons.

House leaders objected to special projects worth about $40 million that senators directed the state Department of Transportation to develop.

They include $11.2 million to upgrade a bridge on Mississippi 14 in Rolling Fork; $10 million to expand Lakeland Drive in Rankin County; and $10 million for work on the U.S. 82 bypass around Greenville.

"We were able to get $10 million for this project and in addition to that we were able to get $4 million for a project down in Vicksburg to help with their bypass," he continued.

According to Simmons, there were some other highway projects that he was highly pleased with.

"Over on Lakeland, a place near Jackson, we were able to get $10 million to help or combat a serious highway issue. The traffic is Lakeland is the worst in the state it is one of the most crowded areas. Traffic is horrible," he added.

Simmons also said Bolivar and Sunflower County roads, bridges and highways were able to get in on the action.

"In Bolivar and Sunflower County we have bridge closures and we were able to get $32 million designated for the state aid program that will go to those counties to help them with projects," said Simmons.

Lawmakers plan to spend $6.04 billion in the budget year that begins July 1, up $215 million, or 3.7 percent, more than the budget they passed for the current year. Lawmakers also added about $100 million to the current year's budget, to cover deficits in the state prison system, its Medicaid health insurance program and other programs.

He also mentioned that if the economy continues to grow, that $32 million will be triggered and go towards other highway projects.

"The Port Commission in Rosedale had been looking at how they can improve the roads for trucks during harvest season – this is a traffic nightmare. We were able to get the Port Commission some additional funds to add another lane to the port area," said Simmons.

"For our area, we were very, very pleased with what we were able to accomplish," he added.

Simmons said he is grateful to have worked with the Chairman of Appropriations Buck Clarke, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and the other delegations from the Delta who help make all of the projects possible.

Republican leaders put the legal limit of $410 million into the rainy day fund, the state's largest savings account.

This freed up money to spend in 2015.

"These are the kind of things that we are always pleased to be able to get done and then to being able to make a $300,000 donation to the Fannie Lou Hamer Cancer Foundation was icing on the cake. We had a great year," said Simmons.