(Courtesy of the gulflive.com blog. Originally posted on 01/22/2014.)
JACKSON, Mississippi — Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman delivered the Democratic response to Gov. Phil Bryant’s State of the State address Wednesday evening.
In his seven-minute speech, Wiseman pointed to his approach to governing in Starkville as a model for legislators to follow.
“As a mayor, every day I work with Republicans and Democrats alike to solve my community’s problems,” Wiseman said.
The bipartisan approach has paid off for Wiseman and the City of Starkville.
“Over the past five years, more than 100 new businesses have opened their doors in Starkville,” Wiseman said.
Wiseman then turned his focus to problems affecting all Mississippians.
“Our schools are chronically under-funded. Our local hospitals are being squeezed to the breaking point. Our infrastructure continues to fail the needs of our people and our industries. These are problems that need solving,” said Wiseman. “But year after year, Republican leaders in our State Capitol spend far more time grandstanding than solving real problems. This is unacceptable.”
Mississippi Democrats in the Legislature unveiled the “Mississippi Achievement Plan” last week, and Wiseman spoke about it Wednesday night.
“This agenda is the right one to get our people back to work; to support job growth; to provide for a safe and healthy Mississippi; and, most importantly, to invest in the future of our children by providing a quality education and paying our teachers a fair wage,” he said.
Education was a large focus of Wiseman’s speech. “The Governor’s proposed budget calls for a modest increase in Kindergarten through 12th grade funding. While I appreciate the Governor’s acknowledgement that we must do more for our children, the Republican budget does not go far enough.”
Wiseman also decried Republicans’ continued refusal to fully fund education, saying “The cycle of setting high standards, providing no support to meet them, and then passing the blame when we fail is unsustainable and unacceptable. It is a disservice to our teachers and, ultimately, to our children.”
According to Wiseman, the failure of the Republican legislature to fully fund public education has caused “many of our local school boards…to raise taxes at the local level just to provide basic classroom necessities.”
Wiseman also congratulated House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton) for his newfound support for an across-the-board pay raise for teachers. “We welcome the support of House Speaker Phillip Gunn and other Republicans who have expressed an interest in raising teacher pay this year,” Wiseman said. He continued “Our teachers deserve a significant across-the-board pay raise, and we can do it without raising anyone’s taxes.”
Last year’s budget surplus of $295 million leaves Mississippi with more than enough to fund a $5,000 a year pay raise for all public school teachers, which would cost $201 million.
Wiseman also spoke about the need to ensure Mississippi’s hospitals don’t lose federal funding.
“If we do not act, Mississippi will lose at least $2.2 billion in Medicare funding over the next seven years,” he said. “That would mean a loss of $145 million in 2014 alone.”
Wiseman also focused on the need to improve Mississippi’s transportation infrastructure and protect the Public Employees Retirement System. In closing, Wiseman asked for Republicans to join with Democrats in working to make Mississippi better.
“Mississippians are a tough breed. We have always found a way to overcome our struggles. We Democrats have put forward a plan to take the first steps. I invite Governor Bryant and other Republican leaders at the Capitol to join us in our fight for a better life for everyone in our state.”
Mississippi Democratic Trust Executive Director Brandon Jones, a former state representative from Pascagoula, said that the selection of Wiseman to deliver the Democratic response was “important because we wanted to showcase what local elected Democrats are doing and how they are succeeding in improving the lives of their citizens.
“We also wanted to show off one of our bright young stars, and remind people that Mississippi Democrats are busy building a healthy bench for future races.”