Thursday, December 30, 2010

Late December Ramblings

This afternoon I'll make my sixth trip to Jackson this month (no, taxpayers aren't covering the tab today). But hopefully the day will prove fruitful for the city.

It's good to see things work out after a lot of work from a lot of people.

Here's hoping 2011 is a banner year for Hattiesburg.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vote Tomorrow

No tomorrow. For the people crying out for change over the last two years, tomorrow you have the opportunity to make your voice heard. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. If you're in the metro area, you'll get the opportunity to vote on the following races:

U.S. House, District 4
Palazzo vs. Taylor vs. Hampton vs. Revies

Chancery Judge, Post 1
Jim Thomas vs. any number of write-in candidates

Chancery Judge, Post 2 (replacing retiring Judge Sebe Dale)
Beam vs. Phillips vs. Russell

Circuit Judge, Post 1 (Lamar Co. only)
Mozingo vs. Prichard

Circuit Judge, Post 2 (Lamar Co. only)
Harrell vs. Turney

If you don't know where you're suppose to vote, go to this Web site; Delbert will tell you where.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

House Most Wanted List

So yesterday, a colleague of mine emailed this out. It's a list of new taxes the House Democratic leadership is supposedly rolling out for approval next year. To say that the likelihood of any one of these becoming reality is low would be quite the understatement. But for your own musings, here's the list:

Possible Tax Increases proposed by The House Leadership
Total - Approximately $300 million

Beer excise tax increase - $8 million
Alcohol excise tax increase - $9 million
Soft Drink tax - $20 million
Gaming tax increase of 1% - $27 million
Income tax increase - $150 million
Cell phone tax $1 per phone - $23 million
LLC Charge/fee $25 each - $1.5 million
Fee increases on Banks & Check Cashiers - $20 million
Fees & Licenses increases - $10 million

In addition:

Eliminate 2% Sales Tax discount
Eliminate evaporation allowance for petroleum distributors
Revise distribution of Oil & Gas Severance taxes
Revise the Gaming Road Bond Fund
Special fund Agencies – DEQ $11 million
Wildlife $7 million
Marine Resources $1.3 million
(this is general fund monies to these special fund agencies)

Friday, October 29, 2010

October Tax Revenues Coming In Higher Than Expected

This afternoon, we received word from Governor Barbour's office that Mississippi's tax revenues will come in slightly higher than expected. While this is good news, it doesn't diminish the fact that we're heading into the next fiscal years with hundreds of millions of dollars less than we had this year. Here's a statement from Governor Barbour:

“The state’s preliminary revenue collections as of today came in slightly higher than our conservative estimate for the fiscal year.
October revenue was 1.87 percent, or $7.3 million, more than we had anticipated. While I’m pleased to report that we surpassed the estimate, the need to prepare our state for another difficult fiscal year still exists. The economy still is not strong, and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds dictates that we prepare a Fiscal Year 2012 budget recognizing that Mississippians expect their government to prioritize state spending rather than reach deeper into their pockets.”
-Governor Haley R. Barbour

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Seeing The Salaries of Government Employees

California just launched a Web site publishing the salaries of all city and county employees. Some county and municipal governments have yet to submit their salary information, which could result in fines from State Controller John Chiang.

This article came to us courtesy of Governing Magazine.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

School Nixes Biden Campaign Appearances

Here's an article from The Philadelphia Inquirer about an elementary school in the Radnor School District canceling a campaign event where Vice-President Joe Biden was scheduled to appear for Democratic Congressional hopeful Bryan Lentz. Click here to access the article.

This came to us courtesy of Governing Magazine.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ag Commissioner Spell Announces He Won't Run Again

Yesterday, Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Lester Spell (R-Richland) announced he would not seek a fifth term. With that, the speculation now begins on who will run to replace him. Rumors already center on Senator Perry Lee, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Representative Danny Reed.

While it may seem premature to start campaigning for a position over a year before the 2011 general election, many statewide candidates make up their mind to run, form campaign organizations and start raising money years ahead of time. While any open seat in a political office is bound to bring a spirited race, I doubt the race for Mississippi's Ag chief won't be quite as intense (or entertaining) as the 2010 race for Alabama's Agriculture Commissioner. Of course, I reference Republican Dale Peterson's viral YouTube commercial, which launched his campaign into national headlines. Of course, national headlines won't win a local race for you, and Peterson came in a distant third during the 2010 Republican primary.

Either way, jockeying for next year's Ag race will pick up momentum for the remainder of this year.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Losing Streak Is Over

So for the first time in 18 months, Mississippi has met its revenue projection. Signs looked good a couple of weeks ago when state economist Dr. Phil Pepper noted that we were 15% above 2009's revenue halfway thru March. This was confirmed by the State Tax Commission today when Mississippi met its revenue projection. We're even expected to go .3% above the projection.

Hopefully, this will start a trend and show that we've bottomed out and are coming out of this recession, albeit ever so slowly.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hattiesburg Residents Visit Capitol

On Thursday, Senator Billy Hudson and I were honored to host several ladies from the Hattiesburg area for a visit to the Capitol. Mrs. Lillian Breland, Mrs. Barbara Curry and Mrs. Gay Hanberry were among the guests.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Revenue Agreement Reached - and the love fest ensues...

Today, the standoff in the House on the first major part of the budget (the revenue part), ended in an agreement between House Republicans, House Democrats and the Senate. We will recess the session until April 20, but an agreement has been reached on how much money we're going to spend for fiscal year.

The only reason we're waiting on April 20 now is to see if the Medicaid portion of the stimulus plan is passed on the federal level. This would create up to an addition $187 million.

It's funny when an agreement is reached. After days of sharp disagreement and sometimes harsh debate, once an agreement is reached, all of that is forgotten and legislators laud each other over and over again.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Budget Committee Lowers FY 10, FY 11 Budget Estimate

Based on the recommendations of state economist Dr. Phil Pepper, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee adjusted its revenue projections for both FY 2010 and FY 2011.

FY 2010's revenue estimate was adjusted down $119.4 million to $4.432 billion.

FY 2011's revenue estimate was adjusted down $112.9 million to $4.45 billion.

Adjusting FY 2010's revenue estimate down means the Governor will be forced to make further cuts to balance the rest of this year's budget.

However, Pepper did report a glimmer of good news. March's revenue collections thus far are 15% above where they were at this point in March last year.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

House Commends The University of Southern Mississippi On 100 Years

100 years ago today, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed HB 204, which established Mississippi Normal College. The bill passed the Senate a week later and on March 30, 1910, Governor Edmond F. Noel signed the new college into law (with no appropriation- it seems we were doing unfunded mandates back then as well).

Today, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed HR 67, a resolution commending The University of Southern Mississippi on its first century of existence. Out of the several resolutions I've written over my my first three years in the Legislature, this proved to be the most enjoyable. Many thanks to Rules Committee Chairman Joe Warren (D-Mount Olive) for working with me on the timing of taking up the bill, as well as the McCain Library Archives for much of the information that went into the resolution. To read HR 67, you can click here.

Pictured above are all of the Mississippi House members (and one of our clerks) who either graduated or attended Southern Miss (except the Speaker, whose parents both attended when the university was known as the State Teachers College).

New Revenue Estimate Due Out Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 9 a.m., a new revenue estimate will be released for FY 2011. This is one of the last reports House and Senate budget conferees wait for before beginning final budget negotiations. However, based on how "projections" have played out in the last couple of years, it might be wise to base revenue estimates on something more realistic and proven.

I've spoken to one of the House budget conferees, and they expect the revenue estimate to be pretty dismal, projecting even less money than originally thought.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Welcome Back Bobby

While we were in session Thursday, the doors opened on one side of the Chamber and a site arose that caused the entire House to stand to its feet and applaud for several minutes. Rep. Bobby Shows (D-Jones County) arrived back at the Capitol Thursday morning after a long lay-off following heart surgery in late January. Bobby sits on the next aisle over from me but on the same row. When debates get long-winded, we can always count on Bobby to press for a vote from his desk.

It shows once again, that despite seemingly endless rancor and discord, that the House is still one big fraternity. Even though we have differences, folks still care about each other. And in the kind of season we're in, it helps take out some of the tension.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

FY 2010 Budget Passes

The Mississippi Senate passed SB 2495 47-0.

Meanwhile, the Mississippi House passed SB 2495 112-3 on the other end of the Capitol.

SB 2495 was a compromise on deficit appropriations to help state agencies make it through the remainder of the fiscal year. It now heads to the Governor.

Agreement Reached on FY 2010 Budget

Last night, the Mississippi Legislature achieved some resolution on the fiscal year 2010 budget. While more cuts appear likely unless the economy dramatically turns around in the next month or so, SB 2495 makes deficit appropriations to several state agencies.

After nearly a two-month long back and forth between the House and Senate, along with a failed attempt to override the Governor's veto on SB 2688, the conferees for SB 2495 agreed to terms late yesterday, with the Governor in reluctant agreement.

I expect we'll vote on the bill first thing this morning.

The agreement isn't perfect. There's no money for IHL, even though the Governor agreed to give $4.4 million of stimulus money to community and junior colleges. This is very disheartening to me, and I'm sure it's disheartening to the entire Southern Miss community, where huge budget shortfalls are putting jobs and programs in potential jeopardy.

Here's how most of the money would break down:

MAEP for FY 2010 - $33.9 million (same amount as was in SB 2688)
National Board Certification - $2 million
IHL - $0
IHL Financial Aid - $0
Dept. of Mental Health - $4 million
Dept. of Corrections - $16 million
District Attorneys - $1.4 million
Highway Patrol - $1.76 million
Veterans Affairs - $1.1 million

The $82 million package came from the Health Care Expendable Fund (Tobacco Trust Fund), Public Service Commission, MAEP carry-over and Medicaid Clawback Credits.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Farmers' Market Bill Passes House

Long day today- finishing up the last "to do" before I head home.

HB 1566 was a bill that received a lot of interest from folks in Hattiesburg. Hattiesburg is home to the state's largest farmers' market (according to Agriculture Chairman Greg Ward from Tippah County) and home to a pretty swell seasonal market next to Town Square Park. HB 1566 would clarify that food you grow in the ground and then sell at farmers' markets are indeed sales tax-free.

The bill passed overwhelmingly at now heads to the Senate.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Work Begins on FY 2011 Budget

Well, we've hit the halfway point...maybe...hopefully. After a dizzying 3-4 weeks taking up House bills in committee, and then debating them on the floor, this week signals a point when everything slows down. The Appropriations Committee and Ways & Means Committee start taking up appropriation and revenue bills. It's the first semblance of a budget for fiscal year 2011, which will begin July 1 of this year. One misconception I had before running was that the Mississippi Legislature passed a budget in one fail swoop via one gigantic bill. However, what I discovered is that every agency, no matter how small, has an individual bill with its own appropriation.

So K-12 Education via MAEP- one bill. The Gaming Commission- one bill. The Board of Pharmacy- one bill. And they all have to be voted on individually, both in committee and on the House floor. Once the House passes all of its appropriation bills, those bills head to the Senate, where many of them will be amended, and the final details and amounts will be hashed out in conference on the last week of session.

Since the infamous Rules Change back when Buddie Newman was Speaker, generally any appointment to one of the two money committees (Appropriations and Ways & Means) comes only through seniority. Occasionally, you'll have a second term legislator get one of the coveted "wild card" appointments from the House Speaker (an example of this is Ways & Means Vice Chairman David Norquist; or Appropriations Vice Chairman Preston Sullivan).

So if you're like any in our freshman class and much of the House membership, you really can't get a grasp on the budget by waiting to vote on its individual pieces when they come to floor. Much learning comes from attending Appropriations Committee meetings, by sitting around the room on the wall with the rest of the agency heads, budget staff, lobbyists and press.

Today, Appropriations Committee subcommittee chairman presented their proposed appropriations for each agency. Information comes in these really thick printed packets, showing what the agency received last year, what the Legislative Budget Recommendation (LBR) proposed for this year and what the House "position" will be (what we're proposing). This allows legislators to compare numbers with previous years and what was previously "agreed" upon via LBR.

So work has begun on the FY 2011 budget. All appropriations and revenue bills must be passed out of their house of origin by Wednesday, Feb. 24.

Friday, February 5, 2010

John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act Headed to Senate

Today, HB 1487, the John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act cleared its last hurdle in the House and moved to the Senate. Yesterday, the bill passed overwhelmingly but was held on a motion to reconsider. We anticipated an effort to reconsider the bill and offer two amendments, but Chairman Warner McBridge (D-Batesville) moved to table the motion to reconsider, and the motion to table passed, sending the bill over to the Senate.

It was one of those times where I anticipated a big fight on the motion to reconsider, prepared throughout last night and this morning with all kinds of research, only to have it move on without any obstacle. But we'll definitely take it that way anytime.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act Passes House- But Held On Motion to Reconsider

HB 1487, the John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act passed the House today by a vote of 95-18. Debate centered on whether we should mandate helmets on 4-lane highways (the bill does not, and current law does not speak to this) and whether bicycles should be on 4-lane highways at all (current law allows them to be). The bill was held on a motion to reconsider, and I expect two amendments to be offered towards these two issues tomorrow.

The problem with the proposed helmet requirement is one of practicality. In my district, scores of students bike from apartments on 98 or 49 to make their way to Southern Miss. There's no room to store a helmet while they're in class. And there's a certain degree of liberty and risk one assumes when climbing on a bicycle. While I certaintly advocate helmets for children, I don't think government should mandate a helmet law for adults.

As far as the 4-lane highways, well, banning bicycles from those areas basically knocks out students living on those thoroughfares from biking to school. It also puts a major dent in the number of cyclists who enjoy biking on all of Mississippi's roadways (except interstates, which federal law prohibits). And you could make the argument that biking on a 4-lane highway is safer than a 2-lane highway because the motorist has more room to pass.

All that to say, I hope we can beat back these two amendments tomorrow and get the bill over to the Senate.

Monday, January 11, 2010

And we just set ourselves back 75 years...

Apparently over the weekend, several water lines around downtown Jackson froze and then burst, forcing the city to cut off water to the Capitol.

In true Mississippi style, state government has chosen to "hitch up its britches" one more time and bring sewer service to the Capitol via a port-a-john building in the front driveway. This has been the biggest news story of the day with local news stations. I'm sure Leno will get hold of this and show how far indeed we've come.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Incentives for Tunica Plant Ok'd

Yesterday, the Mississippi Legislature approved incentives for the Wilh. Schulz GMBH-planned pipe facility in the Delta. The plant will employ 500 full-time workers (average salary will be just over $30K) within five years of its opening. The company will make a private investment of $300 million and the state approved incentives of $35.1 million.

Of the $35.1 million, $15 million is a loan to Tunica County, who will build the building. The building will then be leased to the Shulz Company, and those lease payments will cover the debt service back to the state. Another $20 million of state money will be a bond in case the company defaults on their loan (the company is borrowing $40 million for equipment from banks), so the $20 million will likely not come into play. Another $100,000 will cover the issuance of those bonds.

While I'm excited when any area of the state gets new jobs, typically, when it comes to recruitment-based economic development, I grimace when we get the final tally on how much the state is having to put up. I'm a big believer in a balanced economic development strategy, where we place a major focus on entrepreneurship, and then complement that with recruitment, tourism and retention. Because in many cases, the recruitment game in economic development, over time, has evolved into a contest to see which state will put up the most incentives. While there are other factors that site selectors also weigh (infrastructure, school system, labor force), states bank on being able to provide major incentives to lure employers to the state.

However, I don't believe that was the case in this project. You have an area in the Delta that is starved for jobs. The $15 million in guaranteed incentives come in the form of a loan that will be paid back to the state. There are also solid clawbacks (provisions that give the state the ability to recoup those incentives if the company doesn't hold up their end of the deal) in HB 338. If the company fails to meet the employment benchmarks (500 within 5 years), the state (via the Mississippi Development Authority) can recoup any portion of that $15 million. This protects the state and helps ensure we don't experience another beef plant debacle.

Anyway, HB 338 easily passed the House and then the Senate, all in one day. Questions on the House floor centered on if there were clawbacks (there were), if local residents would be trained (they would be), if local residents would get first dibs on jobs/contracts over people living in neighboring Arkansas and Tennessee (no way to guarantee it, but it's probable) and if the project would follow bid guidelines (they would follow an expedited bid process, which is typical of economic development projects, because it allows construction to begin quicker).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 Session Underway

At noon, we officially gaveled in the start of the 2010 Legislative Session for the Mississippi Legislature. We welcomed in newly-elected Rep. Scott Delano (R-Biloxi) to the Mississippi Legislature, who replaced Rep. Michael Janus in a special election this past summer. Visiting the Capitol also was Mr. James Meredith, the first African American to attend Ole Miss.

When everyone asks what the big issue for the Mississippi Legislature will be this year, it's a very easy response- the budget. This seems like a very cliche answer, and I can tell folks from the local media may get frustrated with us, because when asked on the issue of the day, it's always the same: the budget. But indeed, how we pay for the state's needs when the money just isn't there this year remains a huge unknown. We can't appropriate more money than we have revenue to cover. And everyone and every agency understands that, until it's their agency or program that's going under the knife.

The budget problem will be one that in many cases, is solved behind closed doors. About 10 people in the Mississippi Legislature (actually it's probably less than that) control the final budget proposals, and once you get those 10 to agree, then the rest of us have an opportunity to vote a proposal up or down. While any legislator can be as influential as he chooses to work for in terms of general policy and legislation, "fighting for funding" for a program or agency important to your district doesn't involve great speeches or progressive legislation- it really comes down to constantly being in the ear of the Chairman, and hoping, at the end of the day, there's enough revenue to go around.

And so we're off and moving now. I know I say it every year (and by every year I mean this is the third year I've said it), but here's hoping we finish everything in three months and avoid special sessions.