The Mississippi Business Journal had an opportunity to catch up with Bay St. Louis Sen. David Baria to find out some of his feelings about projects and plans for Mississippi and the United States as a whole.
Q — Do you believe President Obama’s stimulus plan will be positive for Mississippi? What are some of the infrastructure plans you would like to see for our state?
A — While I have very grave concerns about the size of the stimulus package and the attendant debt burden it places on me and my children, the package is now in place. Given that it is done, I believe that we in Mississippi should accept the majority of the funds available and be very careful in using them wisely so as to help our state navigate this difficult time. I believe it is important to use them with an eye to what is going to help our state long-term, not on quick fixes. For instance, there are over 100 bridges in Mississippi that have been deemed to be unsafe. We need to commit to making infrastructure needs like fixing those bridges the number one priority.
Q — A lot of Republican governors, including Haley Barbour, have thrown around the idea of not accepting portions of the payments Mississippi would receive from the stimulus package. What are your thoughts on that?
A — My understanding is that the governor doesn’t want to accept the portions of the stimulus money dedicated to expanding unemployment benefits. If receipt of some portions of the stimulus money is conditioned upon legislative changes, I would want to review each of those before committing to accept the stimulus funds. However, I am generally in favor of receiving all that will be offered based on what I have heard thus far. More specifically, as Mississippi currently has the lowest unemployment compensation rate in the U.S., it seems logical to me that an upward adjustment is needed. I can’t imagine how a family could survive on the $230 per week, which is the current maximum.
Q — Will Toyota come back to Blue Springs? If not, what will happen to that property?
A — Toyota is a very large multi-national corporation and is one of the world’s foremost car makers. While it is almost certainly feeling the sting of the recession, it should be in good shape to weather this economic storm. Moreover, Toyota made a commitment to Mississippi and I am sure that it will be honored.
Q — What are the best and worst things done by Gov. Barbour since he has been in office? And explain a little on how you feel towards the gubernatorial pardons issue?
A — Without a doubt, Gov. Barbour was at his best during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He was the right man in the right place at the right time. No one else in the country had the kind of access and relationships with those in charge in Washington, and that access and those relationships paid benefits to Mississippi.
I think that Gov. Barbour’s low point may have been in removing Mississippi’s poverty level aged and disabled from the Medicaid roles in 2004-2005. Also, I think it was a terrible mistake to have removed 60,000 children from the MCHIP program as a result of the governor’s face-to-face recertification requirement.
The issue of the governor’s pardon of Michael David Graham hits particularly close to home for me. I grew up in Jackson County and was familiar with the murder. I don’t think the governor of this or any other state ought to have the power to pardon someone who committed a crime as heinous as the murder of Adrienne Klasky. For that reason, I filed a bill this year to limit the governor’s authority with regard to pardons. I also disagree with his release of the rapist who was returned from Louisiana more recently.
Q — There has been a lot of criticism of Republicans’ financial support of partisan talk radio. Should there be an investigation into public funds being allocated for partisan support?
A — Yes. State monies should never be used to support partisan activities on either side of the aisle. We should also require oversight of all state contracts. Currently, the state Personal Services Contract Review Board only has oversight of contracts in excess of $100,000, so an agency can enter into 10 advertising contracts for $99,000 each and the PSCRB has no oversight authority. The PEER Committee has suggested that this process should be changed and I agree.
Q —How does BIPEC (Business & Industry Political Committee) make a difference for business opportunities in Mississippi?
A — BIPEC is a recognizable force around the Capitol. Through the use of its rating system, it scores legislators based on the votes they make and how they affect business interests. BIPEC is also major campaign contributor for (mostly Republican) candidates. At a minimum, BIPEC has created an environment in which legislators are cognizant that business is watching every vote and will hold them accountable. This system serves to make Mississippi a business-friendly state.
Q — What are Hancock County’s greatest post-Katrina challenges, and what do you hope to accomplish as senator to help the region recover?
A — First, I think that a major problem around the state and the country is that people do not realize the condition in which Hancock County remains. They think that Hurricane Katrina was a long time ago, that a lot of money has gone to “the Coast” in general — “the Coast has gotten enough” — and that everything should be back to normal. I wish everyone had the opportunity to visit Hancock County in order to understand the level of devastation still apparent. Hancock County doesn’t want charity. We want the tools to be able to get back on our feet and be a thriving, productive community again. There have been and still are several road blocks to our full recovery.
Hancock County is still without a jail, courthouse, city halls, fire stations, emergency operations center and the list goes on. Currently, there are large infrastructure projects ongoing in Bay St. Louis, Waveland and the county to replace water, sewer and gas systems. Of course, to replace these systems the streets have to be excavated and then replaced. The whole operation makes it very difficult to get around town and to get to downtown businesses. These access issues, together with the insurance problems we continue to face, make it a very difficult place to live and work. I hear of business closings almost weekly. No one in the state will benefit from the collapse of one of our formerly thriving communities on the Coast.
Critical to our recovery in Hancock County is access to affordable insurance. I hope to improve the insurance environment by encouraging the construction of stronger, more wind-resistant homes and businesses through legislative incentives and legislating reforms to the insurance claims process so that more claims are paid more promptly. Together, these initiatives will cause insurance companies to return to the market and allow homeowners to rebuild more quickly in the wake of the next big storm.
— Interviewed by Leslie Galloway