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State ‘noncore’ programs under Bryant scrutiny

Phil Bryant

Phil Bryant

By JACK WEATHERLY 

Gov. Phil Bryant listed what he called three state-supported programs that are not core functions of government, and as such need scrutiny for belt-tightening.

The filmmaking industry is one, and has drawn the most public attention since he issued his budget recommendations on Nov. 15.

The Legislature will have the final say on the state budget in its upcoming session that commences in January.

Filmmaking in Mississippi can get tax-rebate incentives of up to $20 million a year. The program has paid out more than $10 million halfway through fiscal 2017, which doubled the previous record for a full year.

A report from the Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review stated in December 2015 that the return on a dollar invested in filmmaking is 49 cents.

The governor said in his Executive Budget Recommendation for fiscal 2018 that “taxpayers should no longer subsidize the motion picture industry at a loss.”

The governor also suggested that Mississippi Public Broadcasting become “more self-sustainable.”

MPB’s current support from the state is $6.8 million, a 10-year low and down from $7.9 million the previous year, said Executive Director Ronnie Agnew.

Yet Agnew is optimistic. Both houses approved the fiscal 2017 unanimously, he said.

MPB’s state budget was also cut another 5 percent due to a $57 million “accounting error” by a state employee, Agnew said.

The network gets $1.9 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but that is merely “pass-through” money paid back to the Public Broadcasting Service and the National Public Radio for programing, Agnew said.

Yet, he said MPB is reorganizing its foundation because “we do understand that we need to raise more of our own money. We are fully aware of that and we accept that challenge. “All other sources,” amounts to about $1 million, including 7,000 MPB members who donate monthly.

He said that the entire public network gets $445 million a year from the federal government but raises six times that on its own, Agnew said.

“In Mississippi, we’ve got to raise more on our own.”

Innovate Mississippi does not invest in projects, said Tony Jeff, president and chief executive.

Innovate Mississippi “is really about connecting dots in terms of connecting investors so that they invest,” Jeff said.

The nonprofit, which started up in 2001, gets $500,000 a year from the state for its 10-person operation, he said.

Of the total budget of about $2 million, approximately $1.2 million comes from the federal government, and the balance, about $300,000, comes from private sources, Jeff said.

Kopis Mobile LLC participated in Innovate Mississippi’s Angel Network.

“They allowed us to make our pitch to groups [of investors] that they put together from all over the state,” said managing partner Henry Jones.

The other is the Mississippi Seed Fund, which is administered by Innovate and “came at a critical time,” Jones said.

The company, which was launched in January 2013 now employs about a dozen and its annual revenues have tripled each year, reaching $2 million this year, he said. “And we are cash-flow positive.”

Kopis’ headquarters are in Flowood, and it has offices in Tupelo and Virginia Beach, Va.

Kopis is one of four firms in the state that develop technologies for the military, the other three being Camgian Microsystems in Starkville, Nvision Solutions in Diamondhead and Hyperion Technology Group in Tupelo.

“We’re the new kids on the block,” said Jones said.

Innovate Mississippi “enables technology firms to operate outside of the major technology centers,” he said.

“You have to have everyone coordinating and collaborating and on the same team.

“It’s critical for the state to have somebody doing that on our behalf,” he said.

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