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Lawmakers question governor’s plan to give company millions

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Odd coalition of Dems, GOP question governor’s plan to give company millions for aluminum plant

Some Democrats in the Mississippi Legislature are questioning plans to dole out about $240 million in incentives to a big company while not addressing and water infrastructure crises facing the state. Some Republicans question whether it’s “corporate welfare” or crony capitalism.

Neither group is likely to derail Gov. Tate Reeves’ plan for lawmakers to provide millions in taxpayer funded incentives for a company to build an aluminum plant in the Golden Triangle. But both are asking why they aren’t being given more information and for more time to vet the deal.

The Republican governor announced on Monday that he was calling the Legislature into special session Wednesday at 10 a.m. to take up the incentive package in what he said he hopes will be a one-day special session. As of mid-afternoon Tuesday, rank-and-file legislators still had not seen the particulars of what would be provided to the company, which is yet to be officially named by the state.

“I have been in the Mississippi Legislature for going on 12 years, and I am always concerned when legislators have to rush in and approve economic development projects in one day,” said Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, who is the Senate minority leader.

READ MORE: Gov. Reeves calling in lawmakers to pass incentives for $2.5 billion aluminum plant

Members of the small but vocal Mississippi Freedom Caucus of conservative Republican lawmakers on Tuesday complained about a lack of information being provided ahead of Wednesday’s special session and questioned whether they were being asked to provide “corporate welfare” to a business.

“With no advanced warning, the governor is calling a special session for Wednesday to consider some kind of ‘economic development’ legislation,” Rep. Dana Criswell, R-Olive Branch, said in a Freedom Caucus release. “We don’t have many details at the moment, but we’re concerned that GOP leaders will try to push some kind of corporate welfare package through with little debate and oversight … We will also not sit back as state leaders spend your money on pet projects and on crony capitalist ideas.”

But Simmons said calling the special session quickly with legislators convening with little or no information and being asked act quickly “is par for the course.” He said that is dangerous because there have been instances when the companies did not meet commitments they made, “leaving taxpayers on the hook” for those funds.

Democrats are also voicing concern that the extraordinary special session is being called for the Columbus project while other emergency needs in the state are not being addressed. Both Simmons and his counterpart, House Minority Leader Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, said other emergencies facing the state need to be addressed as soon as possible.

“The governor describes the economic development project as an emergency,” Johnson said. “It is not an emergency. But if he is going to call it an emergency, we need to look at other issues that are emergencies while we are in session.”

Those emergencies, Johnson and Simmons said, include hospitals potentially closing, particularly in the Delta; lack of reliable, clean water in Jackson; and a government corruption scandal involving at least $77 million in welfare money for the poor being stolen, misspent or diverted to supporters of powerful state leaders.

Johnson said he supports the economic development project, but he does not rule out against it “to call attention to those who are not being heard.” He said the state has the revenue, including hundreds of millions in federal relief funds that can be used to address those emergencies.

Simmons said, “I have always supported economic development projects anywhere in the state,” but said there needs to be efforts to bring economic development projects to depressed regions of the state, such as the Delta and areas of southwest Mississippi.

READ MORE: Hosemann pushes to overhaul business incentives, avoid boondoggles of past

Reeves, who previously served eight years as lieutenant governor presiding over the Senate, said on Tuesday he understands the frustration of legislators concerned about the lack of notice for the special session.

“At the end of the day (legislators) come together to pass economic development projects” by large bipartisan margins, Reeves said, adding he is moving quickly to pass the project at the behest of the company. He said the talks on the project began four months ago and have moved quickly. He said the legislation would have “claw back” provisions where the state would be reimbursed if the company did not live up to its commitments.

“I am of the utmost confidence this deal is going to get done and benefit the taxpayers of this state significantly,” Reeves said.

He said there is a good chance that more than 1,000 will be employed and that the average salary, when factoring in bonuses, will be more than $93,000 the company has committed to pay.

Impromptu, hurry-up-and-vote special sessions have become the standard for Mississippi governors to push major incentives for corporations through the Legislature, at least since the Nissan auto plant deal in 2000. Citing the need for secrecy to complete such deals and prevent other states from swiping them, governors and their economic development teams have often provided scant details to only a handful of others before the deals are agreed to.

Nearly three years into his first term, this is Reeves’ first major economic development and incentives deal, but his predecessors, including Gov. Phil Bryant, had several such deals, including the Continental Tire plant near Clinton in 2016.

Some such mega-deals, such as the Nissan plant, have created thousands of sustained jobs for Mississippians and spinoff growth. Others have been taxpayer-funded boondoggles.

Scratching for jobs and development for a poor state, governors and lawmakers over many years have provided dozens of tax breaks, credits and incentives for new or expanding businesses. Lack of oversight on the incentives has in the past resulted in businesses taking the incentives then defaulting on providing promised jobs and investments, leaving the state on the hook for millions with little way to recoup.

Around 2010, the state gave seven “green” energy companies more than $400 million in loans and incentives on the promise of them creating at least 5,000 jobs. Instead, many of the companies failed or floundered, creating a little over 600 jobs. KiOR, a company pledging to make cheap bio-crude, received about $75 million in loans and other state incentives, but went bankrupt leaving taxpayers a $69 million bill.

Nearly two decades ago, the state saw the famous “beef plant scandal,” where a Yalobusha County beef processing plant heavily subsidized by the state cost taxpayers millions when it went belly-up after just three months.

In a recent report on economic development programs and tax incentives, the state Institutions of Higher Learning reported that of 20 state incentives it examined for 2020, only nine “generated a positive return on the state’s investment and two generated a negative return.” Others had not been used in recent years, and “five could not be analyzed because of insufficient information.”

It noted that the Department of Revenue had no info available on how much tax breaks for the Tax Rebate Program had cost in forgone taxes, despite 11 projects receiving the rebates, including the and Pearl baseball stadiums, a children’s , the outlet mall at Pearl and the King Edward Hotel in downtown Jackson.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Volunteers Needed for Next Month’s Peter Anderson Fest

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by Cherie Ward, Our Mississippi Home

It’s the time of year again for artful autumn vibes, crafty fall breezes, and faithful volunteerism.

As soon as the classic car dust settles at the end of this week from America’s largest block party Cruisin’ The Coast in , Peter Anderson Festival organizers will be searching for volunteers for the largest arts and crafts event in the nation.

The Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce-Main Street- Bureau is currently calling for volunteers to step up and participate in the 44th annual Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival.

This year’s event is set for Nov. 5 and 6 and needs numerous volunteers to run smoothly.

This Mississippi Gulf Coast seasonal staple showcases more than 400 booths of artists and crafters from across the United States and even…

This article first appeared on Our Mississippi Home.

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Business leaders ask supervisors to rethink Coastal Tourism appointment

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www.wxxv25.com – WXXV Staff – 2022-07-05 08:56:19

The Board of Supervisors is being asked to reverse its decision to vote out the current president of the Commission.

Last month, the board took up the issue of  Brooke Schoultz’s appointment to the board. She recently had been voted in as president, pending her reappointment to the commission by the supervisors.

Supervisors Connie Rockco and Rebecca Powers argued last…

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Author of Mississippi abortion case law talks future

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Author of Mississippi’s 15-week ban says state leaders must pass reforms to help women or ‘get out of the way’

Becky Currie wrote the Mississippi law that changed the nation.

Currie, a lawmaker, nurse, mom and devout Christian from Brookhaven, said she was “as happy as I can be” Friday, nearly five years after she began writing legislation to outlaw after 15 weeks.

Now, a 50-year-old precedent giving women the right to abortion is dead. The procedure will be illegal in Mississippi. As for Currie, she said the work has only begun.

Currie, 65, will run for another four years in the Legislature, where she said she plans to fight against a hostile, patriarchal state leadership in order to advance policies that allow women to thrive.

Mississippians have little reason to believe Currie will be successful, she concedes.

“I don’t have faith in the system. Because I have watched it fail time, after time, after time,” she said. “But I can tell you, my next four years, I’m gonna be hell on wheels.”

Mississippi Today spoke with Currie on Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Below is a condensed version of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Mississippi Today: Give me a little more of your feel today, being the author of this bill and then seeing this come to fruition.

Currie: Well, you know, we started writing this bill in 2017. It became law in 2018 and then it was immediately overturned, and I went about my regular life for a few years until I heard that it was going before the Supreme Court. You know, for the first time in my lifetime, I felt that there was a chance. That we had some conservative justices on the court, and that we had an opportunity that maybe this could actually be overturned.

Just the fact that they agreed to hear the case was a positive sign, because we hadn’t even had that happen in 50 years. So my hopes were up. You know, I am a Christian and I don’t believe that murder is the answer. And so, I’m very excited about this bill and I know that our work is just beginning.

I’m well aware that we can’t take away this right, and then say, “And good luck to everybody,” and turn around and walk away. And for me, this past legislative session, the work began. When I realized that this could come to fruition, that we had to be there for women.

I got with Rep. Angela Cockerham and together, she and I did the equal pay. And we went to the Speaker and said, “We’re gonna do this.” You know, it had been tried again and again by others to get the equal pay bill done. We let him know, you know, we need to be behind women. And this has got to be done, so we can make sure that these women that are going to have children are paid equally. And it’s a shame that Mississippi was last in the nation to do that, but we got that done. I worked very diligently with other members and talked with the Speaker about increasing the funds for the Children Advocacy Centers. They lost a lot of federal funding this year and they are in desperate need. We met some of those needs, but I will be honest, it was not satisfactory to me. These agencies are the ones that take care of our children, now, that have been abused or neglected or need help. The court systems use them and we failed them by not making sure that funding was where it needed to be this year.

It is imperative that we do that in the upcoming session.

We are in a wonderful position. Our economics are good. Our rainy-day fund is good, but we failed to see some of the problems that we were gonna cause when we decreased the State Health Department budget. And I’m gonna fight and I’m asking other leaders to help me. We have got to make sure that our state health departments are open in every county and that at least one day a week, a nurse practitioner is there to write prescriptions and hand out birth control.

There’s no way that we can take this away — and I’m 100% pro-life — but I want every woman to not feel that they cannot receive birth control.

They need to be able to. Most people, because we don’t expand , most people don’t have the money to go to the doctor once a year. They don’t have the money to buy the prescription. And right now, with the , and inflation the way it is, there is no way they could go to the doctor and get a prescription to take monthly birth control.

And we, as a people, have to provide that service so we don’t have unwanted and more abused children. We have to make sure that if women want jobs, that we pay them equally, and that we make it a workforce development monies, ‘cause we spend so much on it, that it is making sure that women are getting jobs and having a career so they can raise these children.

MT: We don’t have a good track record of supporting women. And we don’t have a good track record of funding public programs to help low-income people. So how do you commit to me, as a Mississippi taxpayer, that you’re going to do that? How can I trust that you’re going to do that?

Currie: Well, I can tell you that I’m a nurse. And I am a mother and a grandmother.  … I have mostly been a single mother all of my life. And I know how hard it is to raise children. And I know how hard it is to go to work and be the mom and the dad and take care of children by yourself.

I completely have lived that. And I also know that society doesn’t help you. And I struggled to go through nursing school to take care of my children and thank God I did. And thank God my parents helped me during that time, or I wouldn’t have made it. But I understand more than you think how hard it is and, and how much it takes. And look, that was in the 70’s for me, that I was a single mother, so I can tell you it would be much scarier now. I understand that people are struggling day to day to put food on the table and to take medicines and put gas in their car. I understand it’s worse now than it’s ever been.

All I can tell you is that I will not rest until we have places for women to go. And, you know, we’re gonna have to, whether we like it or not, there’s gonna be unwanted pregnancies. We’re gonna have to make sure that adoption is readily available and affordable. And I will say this to you: We don’t want to make it so easy that somebody that’s going to abuse a child is able to adopt, but our adoption rates and foster children, all of these things are going up, and we as Mississippi government has (sic) done a terrible job with DHS. We as Mississippi government has (sic) done a terrible job with collecting child support from deadbeat dads. We as Mississippians have done a terrible job of taking care of pregnant women and giving them the postpartum care that they need. And I am well aware of that.

And I will call everyone out that now does not get on this ship with me and steer this in a right direction. You know, we have been given this gift. We have begged and prayed and asked for this ruling. And I’m telling you, now our job begins. If we don’t take care of what God is asking us to do, you know, because I’m very religious and I will tell you that, God has asked me to write this bill.

We have this, and now he’s telling us to feed his sheep. But I know, if you’re not religious, Anna, that’s not gonna — but anybody with religion understands that the Lord said, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” Well, we have an opportunity to show that we will feed his sheep.

MT: I’ve covered these programs and I’ve seen how—

Currie: How horrible they are. They’re horrible.

MT: Why not fix the programs and then outlaw abortion?

Currie: Well, you know, I wasn’t in charge of all that. And you know what else I will tell you to say: If the leadership, now, doesn’t step up to the plate — and you write this, Anna — we need to vote them out.  Vote them out. Because I have fought and fought and fought with leadership on postpartum care, DHS, and they continue to make women feel like we asking questions — we are a pain. Women in the Legislature are looked down on as, “Oh, those lil pesky women, asking questions again about how things are done.” You know, I’ve raised questions about Young Wells (Young Williams, Mississippi’s child support contractor) and the disaster that that has been. And read the PEER report if you don’t wanna believe a woman.

Because our politicians, our leadership wants to help their friend who’s a lawyer running this program. I am sick to of all that. I’m sick to death. And write all this. I don’t care. I’m sick to death of politicians who just want to give our Medicaid monies to Mississippi CAN companies to leave the state with it instead of taking care of our citizens and our children and our women. I’m sick of it. And I’m telling you now, either you wanna work through this process, you wanna help the people of Mississippi or get out of the way.

All I can do is fight. You know how they are. They’re gonna be pissed that I’ve said all this, but if you don’t wanna help us, get out of the way and let somebody who wants to.

MT: But so much of what we’re talking about, it just takes money and it takes political will for programs that they see as socialism, Becky, that’s the problem.

Currie: Well, you know, Anna, the deal is, half of what I just said — I mean, I realize expansion of Medicaid, they do — but half of what I just said is easy. We should have done this years ago, DHS, CPS, child support. You know, sending our Medicaid dollars to Mississippi CAN so they can give them under the table cash money. I mean, my God, how corrupt do we wanna be? But now is the time. God has given us this wonderful – what we’ve prayed for for 50 years. And if you don’t want to work to make all of this better, for God’s sake, get out of the way.

MT: What would you say is the number one action? Because I don’t know yet if they talked about very specific policy changes or investments (in the Friday press conference). What would you say is the first step?

Currie: The first step would be, make sure that every county health department is open with the ability to prescribe birth control.

MT: Do you know if crisis pregnancy centers prescribe birth control?

Currie: I don’t think they do. I think it’s the crisis after the problem is there already. I think that’s where they go to help make this decision, am I going to have an abortion.

(Editor’s note: Studies have found the majority of crisis centers do not provide or discuss contraceptives and sometimes provide misleading information about birth control).

MT: I think that — as Tate Reeves has represented a while ago when he gave that $3 million (tax credit to crisis pregnancy centers) — I think the men in leadership think that the crisis pregnancy centers are the solution, whereas when I talk to you, you’re talking about county health clinics. You’re talking about the child advocacy centers.

Currie: I hate to tell you, I disagree 100% that the crisis centers are your first step because that’s after the problem exists. So why can’t we help women as of today? But because today abortion is illegal in the state of Mississippi.

(Editor’s note: Abortion is still legal in Mississippi, but a trigger law on the books means it will likely become illegal in coming weeks).

So today we need to make sure every woman in every county has access to birth control. And that may not sound like the Christian thing to say. That’s the most realistic thing to say.

I’m a Christian, but I never want a woman to have to be in the position of having to decide to abort a child or not. In 2022, a woman should never have to come down to that decision with the technology we have. It’s just plain access, non-access to care.

MT: The Medicaid thing is the best example that you can be like, “Alright, let’s see, so we’re outlawing abortion, so women can’t have abortions if they want them, but then, we’re not going to extend postpartum Medicaid, so they’re going to lose their coverage after (60) days.” Like, that doesn’t seem like we’re supporting women.

Currie: Let’s say you have a 19-year-old. Let’s say she had a baby and she’s gonna lose her coverage. And she’s staying up all night. The baby’s got colic, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And she didn’t make it in to get her checkup. She’s got postpartum depression and she needs to be on birth control, but she didn’t make it in ‘cause her life is turned upside down right now. But we don’t wanna take care of her and we’re gonna end that.

That was a chance for us to reach out, knowing that this bill, by all accounts, it was gonna go through. And last year, it passed the Senate and it didn’t come up in the House. The Speaker wouldn’t let it out, but the House was prepared to pass it.

And so that’s what I’m saying to you either, either work with us or get out of the way.

MT: How do you explain that though? Like again, to someone outside the state, what happened there?

Currie: It’s very hard to explain unless you know the backstory that he’s (House Speaker Philip Gunn) running for governor and he doesn’t wanna look like he expanded Medicaid.

MT: The feeling is that we know what these policies are. We know things that we can do to help, but men in leadership are standing in the way?

Currie: They are.

MT: While also saying that they’re doing those things, that they support those things.

Currie: Right. And, you know, I think that my number one bill, my number one legislation to work on is that we make sure every county health department is open and staffed. Because … there’s a lot of women already, that have just ended up pregnant because they had no resources. How much more can the state pay for, because you go on Medicaid the day you find out you’re pregnant. You have a positive pregnancy test, you are entitled to Medicaid. There’s no questions asked.

So you’re gonna pay for all of this. You’re gonna pay for whatever comes in that pregnancy, maybe a NICU. Who knows how much that mother and child is gonna cost the taxpayers instead of just giving them the opportunity to go into their local health department and receive the care that they need.

I mean, you have to think of the amount of care that goes undone because the local health departments used to play a huge role in community health services. So, I mean, we could go down the rabbit hole on this, there’s no telling what’s not being tended to.

MT: But Tate Reeves is just really against any government spending. I mean, that’s not a secret.

Currie: They are unless it benefits them. It’s always a soundbite.

MT: But so how are you gonna get them to increase a state budget?

Currie: Well, let me just say this to you: We do all the time. We give pay raises. We gave enormous pay raises this year. We started a new agency. Republicans don’t grow government. You know, we started a new agency this year for broadband. They tried to start a new agency for . And I killed that bill. So Republicans, if they wanna really be Republicans, you know, don’t spend it on the good ole boy system, then let’s do the basic needs of the people.

So if they wanna get into that rabbit hole, I’ll go down it with them. You know, you grow government, you give pay raises, you increase PIN numbers. They give their friends and their buddies pay raises and they leave everybody else off, or they fire ’em if they don’t like them. Not one time has it (removing agencies from under the personnel board) worked. There’s just so many things, but the good old boy system is old and tiring.

MT: Are you worried that — I mean, again, in this day, it’s more crucial than ever that these supports are put in place for women who are facing these decisions. Are you scared what’s gonna happen if those supports don’t come or if the leadership blocks you?

Absolutely. I’m concerned for women. And you know, not just women, children. I don’t know if you remember, our health departments are where I took all my children to get their vaccinations. At one point it was a big place to go for . And now, we have left them with nothing.

So, you know, we are spending a whole lot of money on a lot of other things. So let’s put our money where we know it works, where people can get the care they need.

It’s not expanding Medicaid, which they’re so against. If you don’t wanna expand Medicaid, you’ve got to expand access to care.

I think that is the number one issue. If we don’t do that, shame on all of us.

… Look, we’re all wrapped up in the (U.S. Supreme Court) decision, but the work has just begun. And I don’t want someone to feel like I’ve got to go to another state. I want them to feel that they have the support here. You know, I want them to feel that we did everything we could. If you didn’t go get birth control, because we made it easy and free, if you didn’t go do it, that’s not my fault. That’s yours, you know?

MT: Well, I’m just telling you, women do not feel supported in this state.

Currie: Oh no. I don’t feel supported in this state. I just need you to know, I get it. When a woman stands up in the House to ask a question, I see men roll their eyes. Okay? I see their expression, I see the expression on the Speaker’s face. When I push my button, he’s like, “Oh crap.” He doesn’t want to hear from us. But I want people to know that.

MT: How does it feel knowing that you authored this bill that literally everyone in the nation is—

Currie: Talking about.

MT: Talking about and impacted by.

Currie: You know, I knew that this bill was special when we did it. I don’t know if you’ve read my Newsweek article. I wrote why I wrote and picked 15 weeks.

I knew that this was the right thing to do. Look, it’s not fun at my house on Thanksgiving now, let me just tell you.

MT: Why?

Currie: My brother-in-law lives in Boulder, Colorado.

MT: Oh.

Currie: Does that help? He and his girlfriend hate my guts, you know?  But it’s okay. I mean, I’m okay and I’ve had thick skin for a long time. I don’t know how God made me this way. It’s kind of bad though, it’s kind of a Scarlett O’Hara type thing. “I’ll worry about that another day,” you know? But I’ve had thick skin for a long time.

So, you know, I realize that there’s a lot of unhappy people right now. And I just don’t want anybody to think that I’m not aware that we have changed the nation. And that it’s now our responsibility to help take care of women and children. I feel that from the bottom of my heart.

MT: And I just keep coming back to the fact that I don’t foresee that happening.

Currie: And you may be right. But it won’t be because I didn’t fight for it.

Look, I get it. And look, we’ve really never done anything to prove you wrong.

MT: Right. I mean, I feel like I’ve earned my skepticism at this point, you know?

Currie: Absolutely. You have. And look, I have to tell you something: I don’t have faith in the system. Because I have watched it fail time, after time, after time.

… But I can tell you, my next four years, I’m gonna be hell on wheels.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mississippi among states where sales tax is largest revenue source

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Study: Mississippi among minority of states most dependent on sales tax

The individual income tax, which House Speaker Philip Gunn, Gov. Tate Reeves and others want to eliminate in Mississippi, is the largest source of revenue in 33 states.

Mississippi is among 14 states where sales tax is the largest source of revenue, according to a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trust, which researches and offers assistance to governmental entities on various policy issues.

Recent reports by Pew reveal that most states, including Mississippi, are experiencing significant increases in revenue collections and those increases are fueled by strong collections of most general taxes, including the income tax and the sales tax.

“Tax revenue is one factor that helps explain recent widespread state budget surpluses,” according to a report from Pew.

Currently, according to data compiled by Pew, tax collections are robust both in states that rely primarily on the sales tax and those that are dependent on the income tax.

Mississippi is no exception. With one month of data still to collect before the fiscal year ends on June 30, tax collections in Mississippi are nearly $1.3 billion above the official estimate. The official estimate represents the amount of money legislative leaders projected would be available during the session to build a budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1. Money above the official estimate goes into reserve funds.

During the 2022 session, the Legislature appropriated $951.1 million in reserve funds. The bulk of that funding went for a litany of one-time projects – such as on government buildings repair, renovation and construction, and on projects across the state.

Based on revenue collections through May, the Legislature also will have a substantial amount of reserve funds for the 2023 session.

In addition to being almost $1.3 billion above the official estimate, tax collections also are $615 million or 10.25% above the amount collected during the first 11 month of the previous fiscal year. Through 11 months of the fiscal year, the personal income tax collections are up $276.7 million or 13.8% while the general sales tax collections are up $291.4 million or 14.4%. Other elements of the sales tax, such as the tax levied on out of state purchases, also are up.

In the coming years, Mississippi will be even more reliant on the sales tax. During the 2022 session the Legislature reduced the state income tax – beginning in the 2023 calendar year – by eliminating the state’s 4% tax bracket on people’s first $5,000 of taxable income. The 5% tax on remaining income will drop to 4.7% for 2023, then 4.4% for 2025 and 4% starting in 2026. The changes will reduce state income tax revenue by $525 million when fully enacted in 2026.

Both Gunn and Reeves have expressed support for fully eliminating the income tax in the coming years.

“We have talked a lot about moving toward a full elimination of the income tax. I believe that is still the goal. We want to make sure we continue that fight,” Gunn said during the 2022 session earlier this year.

Such action would further position Mississippi among the minority of states more dependent on the sales tax for revenue than the income tax. The sales tax is viewed as a regressive tax that places a larger tax burden on low-income residents than does the income tax.

According to research by Pew, Mississippi currently garners 45.2% of its revenue from its general sales tax, which is 7% on most retail items. This would also include the excise tax levied on out-of-state purchases, primarily those made via the internet. The personal income tax accounts for 26.9% of the state’s revenue, according to Pew.

But that number will decline in the coming years as the income tax is reduced, with the hope by some, of eventually eliminating the tax.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jubilee Havens opening new shelter to house victims of sex trafficking

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Biloxi - Local News Feed Images 002

www.wxxv25.com – Janae Jordan – 2022-05-13 17:55:36

This coming Monday at the Chamber of Commerce Main Street Bureau, Jubilee Havens will cut the ribbon on a new shelter.

The new facility, known as the Whistle Stop, will be a temporary pause for women rescued from sex trafficking.

The facility will house five guests in need of shelter for up to 30 days. While residents are at the facility, they will be guided by professionals, volunteers, and staff who…

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Gov. Tate Reeves blocks state funding for Jackson projects

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Gov. Tate Reeves blocks state funding for major Jackson park improvement, planetarium

Gov. Tate Reeves on Thursday vetoed state spending recently passed by lawmakers for major upgrades to a Jackson park, the capital city’s planetarium and several other earmarks lawmakers made in a massive capital projects bill.

“Jackson is not one suburban golf course and one planetarium away from thriving,” Reeves said, adding the city should focus on its crumbling infrastructure and . “Until then, these projects would never be viable.”

Flush with federal pandemic stimulus cash and state surpluses largely generated from trillions in federal spending, the Legislature this year had billions extra to spend beyond its $7 billion general budget. Lawmakers directed money to hundreds of projects statewide.

Reeves has signed most of this spending into law, but in recent days has selectively used line-item vetoes to nix an handful of projects, including a $50 million hospital renovation at the University of Mississippi Medical Center with federal pandemic relief funds.

During a Thursday conference, Reeves said his office made a “diligent, thorough” review of legislative spending and he used his veto stamp on items that were “not the most appropriate way to spend your hard-earned dollars.”

Reeves praised hundreds of millions of dollars legislators directed to water and sewerage projects, road and bridge work and other infrastructure “that sustains society.” He said they are sure to have a generational impact on the state. But he said spending on “golf courses, private pools … city and county office buildings” and $7.5 million earmarked for three private companies without going through the state’s incentives vetting process were untenable and “bad expenditures are bad expenditures.”

In a recent interview with Mississippi Today, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba had also criticized the state spending $13 million on a project that included the golf course. But he had also criticized the state not spending more on Jackson’s infrastructure needs.

Reeves said the state was willing to match Jackson’s water and sewer infrastructure spending, and criticized the city only putting up $25 million of the $42 million in federal funds it received for such work.

“I am very disappointed in how the city of Jackson and have spent ARPA funds,” Reeves said. “… The only reason Jackson is only receiving $25 million (from the state) is because it only put up $25 million to match.”

The largest of the partial vetoes was the $13.25 million going for an ambitious LeFleur’s Bluff State Park upgrade that would develop a park, 10-hole golf course, bike and walking trails to connect museums in the area, such as the Mississippi Children’s , the Sports Hall of Fame and Natural Science Museum, and develop various other recreational activities.

Reeves said he supported much of the project and hoped to work on developing it in the future, but he opposed the development of a golf course as part of the project. He said there are public golf courses already in the area, and the previous golf course at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park and courses and other state parks had not been successful.

“There are many parts of the project I can be supportive of, but the reopening of a golf course I cannot,” he said.

Reeves did not rule out placing the project on the agenda for any special session he has to call later this year for another issue. The governor has the authority to set the agenda for a special session. In the past, though, legislative leaders have taken up vetoes in special session even if there were not on the governor’s special session agenda.

The Legislature also would have the option to take up the vetoes at the start of the 2023 session. It takes a two-thirds majority of both chambers to override a veto.

Many of the items vetoed by the governor were for items in the city of Jackson.

Those Jackson vetoes in addition to the LeFleur’s Bluff project are:

  • 250,000 for work at the Briarwood pool.
  • $1 million for a parking lot at the Jackson Convention Center.
  • $2 million for the city of Jackson planetarium.

Reeves said the planetarium is currently closed and questioned whether providing an additional $2 million would sustain the project.

In a statement, David Lewis, Jackson’s deputy commissioner of cultural affairs, said, “We are shocked and discouraged by the news about the governor vetoing the $2 million funding for the Planetarium. We are hoping to open a line of communication with the governor’s office to review our options.

“The Planetarium project is one that takes a beloved facility and brings it back to life for Mississippians to visit, be inspired by and to learn from. We know that our project will infuse STEM learning principles into our exhibits, bolster our growing product by attracting national visitors, and strengthen the redeveloping downtown fabric in the Capital city.”

Other vetoes are:

  • $1 million for golf course improvements at the Scenic River Development.
  • $500,000 to the city of Greenvillle to develop green space next to the federal courthouse.
  • $1 million to help with renovations of city offices.
  • $50,000 for Arise and Shine Inc. in Copiah County.
  • $200,000 to Summit Community Development Foundation.
  • A combined $7 million for three companies.

In providing funds to the companies, Reeves said the Legislature bypassed the normal process of applying for funds for expansion projects with the Mississippi Development Authority and being vetted.

The vetoed items were part of a massive bill that totaled $223 million for projects throughout the state. Reeves said he approved near 90% of the projects that dealt with improvements to infrastructure and items that improved the quality of life. Multiple county courthouses received funds for renovations as did various museums and other projects throughout the state.

During the Thursday news conference Reeves said he wanted to stressed not the vetoed items, but the legislation signed into law that made a difference for the state in terms of primarily infrastructure improvement.

“We’re strengthening our roads, bolstering our bridges, and increasing access to clean drinking water,” Reeves said. “These investments will not only help us pave roads but pave the pathway to economic prosperity. By building better roads and constructing stronger bridges we give Mississippians the tools necessary to run their businesses, provide for their families, and get to work safely.”

The governor highlighted federal fund the state received to combat being used for water and sewer projects throughout the state. He also touted legislation he signed providing the Department of Transportation $1.43 billion, its largest appropriation ever. Reeves said the funds can be used, in part, to draw down federal funds that were part of the infrastructure package passed by Congress and signed into law by .

While Reeves vetoed various items he described as “wasteful” spending, he said he allowed to become law without his signature the pay raise for state elected officials. The pay raise will go into effect in 2024 after the 2023 elections.

Reeves said he decided to approve the pay raise because of another state law that prevents employees of elected officials from earning more than the top elected official. He said that makes it difficult for some government officials to hire competent employees for some positions, like staff attorneys or financial advisers in the treasurer’s office.

Reeves said he intends to donate his raise to charity if he is reelected in 2023.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Lawmakers end 2022 session with historic spending spree

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Lawmakers end 2022 session with historic spending spree

Mississippi legislators ended the 2022 session on a two-day spending spree where they spent funds at a pace never before seen in the state.

During a two-day period ending late Tuesday evening, legislators appropriated $7.32 billion on a state-support budget – 9.2% or $617 million more than was spent for the current year budget that ends on June 30.

In addition, the Legislature spent:

  • $1.51 billion in federal funds on a litany of items ranging from helping to repair or improve local water and sewer systems to enhancement to propping up state agencies facing lawsuits because of substandard conditions.
  • More than $900 million in surplus funds on hundreds of projects, including small projects such as courthouse repairs across the state, construction (on public buildings, including schools, state office buildings and community college and universities and more) and road and bridge repairs.

At the end of the 48-hour spending spree, House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, congratulated members, saying it was “a hard session, but one that has been very rewarding, one that has done amazing things for the people of the state and transformed our state.”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, began talking about the need to make transformative change with the funds from the American Rescue Plan soon after the U.S. Congress passed it in 2021.

During the 2022 session, the Legislature appropriated all but about $300 million of the $1.8 billion in American Rescue Plan funds it received. The Legislature can spend the remaining amount in the 2023 session.

“We are not likely to see this magnitude of additional federal dollars come to our state again in our lifetime,” Hosemann said. “This is why it was critical for the Legislature to create a plan which would result in the money going in the ground for generational change. So many of our communities across Mississippi have multi-million dollar water and sewer challenges which have health, safety, economic and other consequences.

“These funds will help these communities begin the process of addressing these concerns resulting in a better quality of life for our citizens,” Hosemann continued.

The Legislature enjoyed almost the perfect storm in terms of available money. Because of an estimated $35 billion in federal funds being funneled into Mississippi to deal with the pandemic, state revenue collections have soared to unprecedented heights, resulting in a surplus of about $1.1 billion in addition to the ARPA funds.

The Legislature spent about $900 million of those surplus funds on building projects and eschewed the traditional bond bill that is passed most sessions to incur long-term debt in addressing the state’s building needs. Legislators said they should be able to do the same next year as state revenue collections remain high. The end result should be a reduction in what the state spends on debt service. The debt service payment was $439 million for the current year.

One of the last of the scores of appropriations bills passed was to spend $222.3 million of the surplus funds on hundreds of projects in communities throughout the state. A summary of the projects was passed out to the members by the leadership, but not to members of the media.

After the summary in the House was passed out, the spending bill was passed in less than two minutes.

At times, the number of appropriations bills being taken up seemed overwhelming, Legislators got off to a late start on taking up the bills. Senate leaders say that occurred because House leadership refused to work on them until a $525 million tax cut was agreed to and passed on March 28.

“I am really concerned with the way the process is rushed,” said Rep. Zakiya Summers, D-Jackson, adding she was concerned about the possibility of mistakes. “…You really don’t have time to debate or ask questions. The conference reports (final agreements) come so fast.”

Summers said she would like to have seen American Rescue Plan funds earmarked to the city of Jackson because of its unique position as the state’s largest city to deal with its antiquated and subpar water and sewer system. But instead, Jackson, like all the cities in the state, will have an opportunity to apply for grants to get help with the system.

She said she was afraid to vote against the bill offered by the leadership to provide grants.

“If you don’t vote for that, you don’t get to vote for anything,” she said.

House leadership said they understand Jackson plans to put up $25 million of the almost $50 million in ARPA funds it received to hopefully pull down $25 million in state ARPA funds for water and sewer infrastructure needs. The program approved by the Legislature requires a dollar-for-dollar match from bigger cities to access the state ARPA funds.

One area where there was debate during the final days was on providing about $20 million in federal ARPA funds to private schools — both private universities and kindergarten through 12th grade schools. Opponents said public funds should not be spent on private schools.

The private school bill was at first defeated in the Senate, but ultimately the Senate leadership garnered the votes to pass the bill.

Significant additional funds also were spent to enhance efforts to improve the state highway system, including spending $40 million from the surplus funds to match federal funds available through the watershed infrastructure bill approved last year by the U.S. Congress.

“Our cities, counties and constituents have asked us to dedicate our resources to better maintain and add to our infrastructure,” Hosemann said. “This package is a direct response to their request, with projects ranging from critical safety needs to routine maintenance to new infrastructure across our state.”

The Legislature also appropriated about $40 million to improve conditions at state parks. Hosemann said a study indicated it would take about $160 million to address all the needs in the state park system. He said he hopes additional funds are appropriated in the 2023 session for the effort.

READ MORE: Spending billions, cutting taxes, fear and loathing: The 2022 legislative session wasn’t pretty, but it was historic

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Lawmakers spend unprecedented state, federal funds

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Lawmakers near finish line on spending unprecedented state and federal funds

Legislators worked late Monday night to fund state government at an unprecedented level and also to spend the bulk of $1.8 billion in federal pandemic stimulus provided to Mississippi by Congress.

The overall state support budget that has been agreed to by legislative leaders and is being rubberstamped by the full membership is expected to be $7.32 billion, or 9.2% more than what was appropriated for the current fiscal year.

Work continued late Monday to finalize the budget for the new fiscal year than begins July 1 and to spend the federal money. Legislators have a midnight Tuesday deadline to complete the process.

The bulk of the state’s federal ARPA money — $750 million — will go to cities, counties and rural water associations as matching money or grants for water and sewer infrastructure projects.

Note: Scroll to the bottom of this story to see a full list of the ARPA spending.

Because of an April 5 deadline and because legislators are limited in their impact over the budgeting process, most of the about 100 budget bills presented by the leadership were being approved Monday with little or no debate.

“This is frustrating on two levels: not enough members have input and if the conferencing (negotiations) was done in the open, then members would at least have more of an idea,” said Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, the House minority leader.

“And we are almost forced to take a vote because so much is done at deadline.”

Because of the infusion of an estimated $35 billion in federal coronavirus-relief funds into the state , state tax collections have soared, placing legislators in the rare position of being able to address more state needs than they are able to do during most sessions.

The state-support budget is funded from general tax revenue, such as the tax on retail items, income and other items. It does not include what are known as special fund agencies that are funded through a special tax or fee and it does not include federal funds, which provide state government an extra $11 billion.

Referring to the state support budget, Senate Appropriations Chair Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, said, “To keep government services at the level we expect them to be we have to spend a little extra money to keep up with inflationary costs. I think we have done that in a responsible way in this budget.”

Hopson said the budget for most state agencies grew by an average of 3.1%. But the budget, which was still being finalized late Monday also will include other significant spending — sometimes one-time spending. For instance, the Legislature is budgeting $54 million to the Department of Human Services for a new computer system designed to help the agency that oversees various federal social services to operate more efficiently.

Public education formula will be shorted again

One entity that it appears will not keep up with inflation is the appropriation for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides the state’s share of the basics to operate local school districts.

MAEP’s funding is expected to increase $83.2 million, or 3.7%. But about $45 million of that additional spending will go for a teacher pay raise approved during the 2021 session, meaning those funds will not be available to help with the more than 6% increase in inflationary costs.

Senate Education Chair Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, said MAEP will be about $304 million short of full funding.

The budget also will include $246 million for the teacher pay raise approved this year by the Legislature. Those funds for the latest pay raise will not be incorporated into the MAEP funding formula until next year.

In addition, it appears that both the community colleges and public universities will receive sizable increases that can be used to provide faculty pay raises. The budget for the 15 community colleges is expected to increase almost 11% or $27.4 million, while the budget for the eight public universities is slated to jump by $125.7 million or 17%.

The budget also includes funds to pay for the increased costs to employees in the state health insurance program.

Hopson said the budget will also ensure no state employee “is going to be paid below the minimum as set by the state Personnel Board.”

The minimum is established by the Personnel Board by determining the salary for similar positions in the private sector and in surrounding states. Employees can go to the state Personnel Board web site to see what the salary range is for their job.

How federal ARPA money will be spent

Lawmakers agreed on spending $1.5 billion of the $1.8 billion the Legislature received, holding back more than $295 million that can be spent next year.

The largest expense — $750 million — will be providing matching money for city and county governments and rural water associations to help the states aging water and sewerage infrastructure. Cities and counties are receiving a combined separate $900 million in ARPA funds. The state will provide a 1-to-1 match to most cities and rural water associations, and a 2-to-1 match for small towns that are receiving less than $1 million from ARPA. The cap on the state ARPA match for cities will be $50 million.

The money would be provided as grants of up to $2.5 million for rural water associations.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann had initially pushed to spend much more on matching funds for major water, sewer and other projects for cities and counties. Hosemann had originally proposed the state spend up to half of its $1.8 billion ARPA allotment to match state funds to allow for larger, “transformational and generational” projects for local governments.

But legislative leaders and the head of the association representing Mississippi cities said they were pleased with the final ARPA spending agreement.

“We are disappointed it’s not as much as initially discussed — the needs are there — but we think it’s good they’ve come to this agreement,” said Mississippi Municipal League Director Shari Veazey. “There was talk at one point about them waiting for a year. Our cities have shovel-ready projects.”

Representatives of rural water associations — which provide water to most Mississippians — had told lawmakers they have about $1.4 billion in badly needed projects statewide. Many of these systems were built in the 1960s and 70s when affordable USDA loans were available, but they have not been able to afford maintenance and upgrades.

Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, led hearings over the summer and helped craft the Senate’s ARPA spending plan — much of which was agreed to by the House.

“I’m very pleased,” Polk said Monday evening about final ARPA agreements. “We are fixing to spend a lot of money that badly needs to be spent on very worthwhile projects across the state of Mississippi.”

House Speaker Pro Tem Jason White, R-West, said he was also pleased with the ARPA spending agreements. He said lawmakers can monitor the water and sewerage match programs, and potentially shift money or add more to it next year.

Although there was very little debate on any ARPA or budget bills as both the House and Senate passed bill after bill in a marathon Monday, some ARPA spending did generate questions. The decision for the state to provide $20 million in ARPA funds to private colleges and K-12 schools drew questions, and although it passed, it had some bipartisan opposition. The measure passed 64-27, with 16 not and 13 voting present.

“When you’re saying ‘independent colleges,’ that would be private colleges?” asked Rep. Becky Currie, who voted against the measure.

Rep. William “Bo” Brown, D-Jackson, said: “It seems to me we should be putting this money into our , not private ones.”

In summer hearings, private college representatives said many of their campus buildings are around 100 years old and need work, and like public universities they could expand their nursing and other programs to help the state’s shortage.

ARPA spending list

Here is how lawmakers agreed to spend $1.5 billion of the more than $1.8 billion in ARPA funds allocated to the Legislature:

Environmental Quality/local water and sewerage: $450 million to match city and county ARPA money for water and sewerage infrastructure projects.

Child Protection Services: $59.1 million, the bulk of which will help the state’s troubled foster care system meet federal court-ordered reforms from a long-running federal .

Employment Security: $60 million. This includes $40 million for nurse training at colleges and universities $20 million for health sciences infrastructure.

Emergency Management: $3.2 million to defray COVID-19 expenses.

Department of Finance and Administration: $337.25 million. This includes infrastructure upgrades at state agencies, colleges and universities and state parks. It also includes:

  • $30 million: to destination marketing organizations statewide
  • $5 million: Small museums loan program
  • $5 million: Mainstreet Program
  • $10 million: to private colleges and universities
  • $10 million: grants private K-12 schools
  • $60 million: to defray increases in state employee health insurance costs

Health Department/rural water associations: $339.5 million, including $300 million for fiscal 2022 and $39.5 million for FY’23. The bulk of this, $300 million, will go to rural water associations statewide for infrastructure upgrades. Other money will go to Health Department operations, reimbursing hospitals for ICU and specialized beds during the pandemic and telehealth and other programs.

Public Universities/UMMC: $56 million. This includes $6 million for a nurse loan repayment and $50 million for renovations.

Mental Health: $104.6 million. The bulk of this money will be used to meet federal court-ordered reforms. Community mental health centers will receive $18.5 million.

Public Safety: $32.5 million over FY’22 and FY’23. This includes $12 million for premium pay for law enforcement and firefighters and $5 million for benefits for first responders who died from COVID-19.

Supreme Court: $3.5 million. This includes money for DAs and staff, public defenders and trial judges to help reduce court backlogs.

University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Nursing building: $55 million.

Mississippi National Guard: $10.4 million for base infrastructure and improvements.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

State budget to be finished next week, legislators hope

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Legislators, flush with cash, hope to finish budget early next week

Legislators, working with an unprecedented amount of money thanks to record state tax collections and $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus-relief funds, are slated to return to the state Capitol Monday morning with hopes of finalizing a state budget.

House Speaker Philip Gunn said the goal is to complete the task and end the 2022 legislative session by Tuesday.

Legislators were scheduled to complete the budgeting process early last week, but twice have had to extend the session to complete the process.

“We have a few little details to take care of” to finalize a budget agreement, said Senate Appropriations Chair Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg.

The budget is likely to be about $300 million more than the $6.56 billion overall state support budget passed during the 2021 session. That will include the $246 million already committed for a pay raise averaging $5,145 for teachers and a 3% raise for state Highway Patrol troopers and for Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics officers. Money also will be set aside to provide raises for some state employees to get their salaries closer to regional averages.

Hopson said the final budget agreement that will be offered for legislators to vote on also will likely include additional funds for early childhood education and for the school building fund.

It is not clear, though, whether the budget will include additional money for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides the state’s share of the basics to operate local school districts. Early budget projections had MAEP about 10% short of full funding.

Negotiators said they are likely to commit to spending $1.5 billion of the $1.8 billion in federal funds this session. The bulk of those funds will be used to help local governments with their water and sewer infrastructure needs.

The funds also will be used:

  • To provide funds to the departments of Corrections, Mental Health and Child Protection Services to deal with lawsuits or pending lawsuits based on substandard conditions.
  • To enhance efforts.
  • To shore up needs in the system highlighted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Finance Chair Josh Harkins, R-Flowood, said the state will be able to save about $30 million this year by not passing a bond bill. The Legislature often incurs debt for the state by issuing bonds to finance various construction projects. Instead, this year the projects will be funded through the more than $1 billion in surplus funds the state has because of the unprecedented revenue collections.  Those funds are expected to be used for state building construction, construction at the universities and community colleges and for road and bridge needs.

Those funds also could be used for local construction projects approved by the Legislature.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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