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Legislators: Yarber has no grounds for quid-pro-quo claim on airport, sales tax bills

Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber

Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber

Legislators are baffled by Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber’s March 11 Facebook claim that a Senate bill to dedicate more sales tax money to Jackson has become leverage for passage of another Senate bill to transfer policy control for Jackson’s airports to a state-appointed board.

Yarber’s office did not respond to requests made Friday, Monday and Tuesday for clarification on the Facebook post. But one lawmaker, Sen. John Horhn of Jackson, said what Yarber described in his post would stray from the Legislature’s ethics rules.

“I’ve not heard anything like what you’ve described,” he said Monday, though he added he has heard speculation about such leveraging.

“That would be a violation of our oath,” he said of a quid-pro-quo arrangement. “No individual or group has approached me with that notion.”

Here is the relevant portion of the mayor’s Facebook post: “The play is to use legislation we have been working on since 2014 to fund the Capital Complex which would pump money into the city, directly from the State, as leverage.”

Yarber insisted “there is no deal to be made.”

Horhn is the main sponsor of the sales tax allocation legislation, SB 2525, a measure that would create a Capitol Complex improvement district and allocate an additional 12.5 percent of Jackson sales tax collections to cover public safety and infrastructure improvements within the downtown Capitol Complex. The 12.5 percent allocation would be in addition to the 18 percent of sales tax money returned to Jackson.

A five-member advisory committee appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and Jackson’s mayor would oversee spending of the money.

The bill won near unanimous approval in the Senate last week. Last year it failed to make it out of the Senate Finance Committee. “We’re more organized now,” Horhn said. “We have a lot more support throughout the community.”

Horhn said he likes the bill’s chances in the House, but is not confident the full additional sales tax allocation proposed will gain approval.

Sen. David Blount of Jackson, co-author of SB 2525, said he sees no connection between the Capitol Complex bill and Sen. Josh Harkins’ bill to transfer governance of Jackson-Evers Airport and Hawkins Field to an expanded board representing all of metro Jackson. “Sen. Horhn and I have been working on the Capitol Complex improvement legislation since long before there was any talk about changing the airport board,” Blount said.

The idea behind their bill, Blount said, is to make the State pay “its fair share” of infrastructure needed to serve the Capitol Complex in downtown Jackson.

“The city of Jackson doesn’t have to spend a dollar on the Capitol Complex.”

Harkins, the airport bill sponsor, said he finds Yarber’s “leverage” claim comical. “I told Tony when I met with him that I haven’t had one person tell me to do this.”

He said his measure is about ending “stagnation” at Jackson-Evers.

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