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Coastal delegation prepares to stick together during session

As members of the coastal legislative delegation prepare for the 2005 session, they have many of the same concerns as members from all over the state. They see important issues such as budget woes, funding education and restoring Medicaid cuts looming. Do they also feel a need to struggle for South Mississippi to be full partners in the legislative process?

“We’re now being treated fairly, but it was a hard fight,” said Rep. Billy Broomfield, a Democrat from Moss Point. “We had a courageous group of legislators who worked together to make sure everyone from Hattiesburg north understood what taxes were being contributed to the state coffers from Hattiesburg south and what we needed to continue being the progressive part of the state we’ve always been.”

He says that was partly accomplished by inviting some legislators from other areas to the Coast to see firsthand what the southernmost counties are doing and what challenges are faced.

“We expect them to go along with the projects that are important to us and we will do that for them,” Broomfield said. “We cooperate and without it nothing gets done.”

The Jackson countian, who’s beginning his fourteenth legislative session, serves as chairman of the House Ports and Harbors Committee. He is pleased that an Intermodal Council has been put together with representatives of all modes of transportation — airports, railroads, ports and harbors and highways. “That’s great for the state. This group will work together rather than fighting,” he said. “It can do nothing but help the state.”

In the face of mounting budget deficits, Rep. J.P. Compretta, a Democrat from Bay St. Louis, says the coastal delegation will have to stand firm to protect gaming revenue that goes to local governments. He says there are those who are likely to look at gaming and all sources of taxes to shore up the state budget downfall. “Of the $225 million a year that the state levies on casinos, 8% goes to the state and 4% to local government. No doubt we can justify what is kept locally but we will have to continually remind others about that.”

Compretta, who also serves as speaker pro tem of the House of Representatives, says there are issues every year about gaming taxes and Tidelands Fund revenue that is returned to coastal areas that bear the impact of dockside gaming.

However, he doesn’t think there will be a huge push in that direction this session.
“There’s also a lot of interest on the Coast in Secretary of State Eric Clark’s ad hoc committee that’s studying the threat of hurricanes to gaming,” he said. “I’m glad he put it together. I am concerned with the number of hurricanes we had this past year.”

He pointed out that the state lost $800,000 in tax revenue during the two days Coast casinos were closed for Hurricane Ivan, plus taxes from employees’ lost wages. Mississippi is the nation’s second-largest gaming jurisdiction in terms of square footage and the third in revenue.

“Whether people like it or not,” Compretta said, “it’s here and providing jobs.”

Compretta is also concerned that the state’s military bases are under scrutiny. The nine bases, several of which are on the Coast, represent a payroll of $1.5 billion for regular military and reserves.

“I am comfortable that our two powerful U.S. senators and Rep. Gene Taylor are doing everything they can,” he said. “We’re adding several million from the state budget to work with that group to keep all the bases open.”

Compretta says the lack of social workers with the Department of Human Services continues to be a problem on the Coast.

He is impressed with some of the new leadership of the Coast’s legislative delegation and feels there’s more unity among the whole group than it sometimes appears.

“On issues that directly affect us, we’re always together,” he said, “but it’s a very diverse group. Other areas in the state are not as diverse at the Coast. We have people moving in all the time from other places. Our population is diverse where other areas are settled in and not changing.”

Sen. Tommy Moffatt, a Republican from Gautier, serves as chairman of the Senate Environmental Protection Committee. He will introduce brownfields legislation this session that will provide incentives for cities, counties and businesses to clean up contaminated places to be used for business purposes. It’s an issue that is important to the Coast, along with other state areas, and he feels its time has come.

“I introduced it last year and it was passed out of the House but not the Senate,” he said. “I will run it through again and believe it will pass.”

Retired from a 35-year career with Ingalls Shipbuilding, now Northrup Grumman, he feels that once again the bonding requested by Northrop Grumman for economic development is important to the district he represents. “There’s one more year on this funding, and I don’t think it will be controversial. They’re the state’s largest private employer, and I think we’ll move forward with it.”

In his 10th year of legislative service, Rep. Dirk Dedeaux of North Hancock County feels that having the House speaker pro tem from the Coast gets the area more attention. He is pleased too with the additional leadership positions fulfilled by members of the delegation. He serves as chairman of the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee (PEER) in the house.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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