Assessing session's econmic impact

by For the MBJ

Published: January 15,2007

JACKSON — When it comes to assessing the economic impact of the Legislature coming to town each January, some observers say they know there is an impact, but they can’t quantify it.
The 2007 session convened at the Capitol January 2 and is scheduled to adjourn April 1.

State economist Phil Pepper said he doesn’t doubt there is an impact on the city, but at the same time, he has no idea on how it might be determined.

“It does have some impact on the City of Jackson and it is good for their area, but it pulls money from elsewhere in the state,” said Pepper.

Pepper said he looked at “the dollars that came in during the International Ballet Competition, which otherwise wouldn’t be here.” That, he said, is different than what happens when the Legislature convenes.

“We do not quantify the impact, but I can assure you that Jackson area restaurateurs look forward to the start of the session. Legislators have their favorite restaurants and there are a lot of receptions taking place, especially during the first 45-60 days of the session,” said Mike Cashion, executive director, Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association (MHRA).

Cashion said his association will hold an event January 23 for legislators.v
“Usually we focus on a specific piece of legislation that we want to educate the Legislature on. This year it will be an alcohol tax that needs to be addressed,” he noted.

The January after a general election, the association holds a large legislative reception to welcome the new Legislature. “The other three years we do a Capital Day.
“Members will provide food usually at cost to the MHRA. Some will donate, but we try to compensate them for their labor and product,” said Cashion.

Cashion said restaurants close to the Capitol are apt to get a chance to host more receptions “simply because of ease of access.”

Longtime restaurateur John Dennery said his restaurant located near the fairgrounds has already been busy with not just legislators, but “many business people who come to Jackson interested in the Legislature. It is a nice problem to have,” he said.

“A lot of people who work have as much interest in the Legislature as any top business executive,” noted Dennery.
He said, “There really isn’t a segment of our society whether it’s labor, education, military or business that isn’t potentially impacted by what goes on at the Legislature.”

Dennery has been at his current location for 29 years. His parents, Nick and Leigh Dennery, started the restaurant in 1948. It was previously located at the corner of Silas Brown and Jefferson Street.

A legislative receptive sponsored by the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) was held at Dennery’s as part of its Capital Day January 4. A 1,000 business leaders from across the state participated.

Mende Malouf Alford, who has owned the Old Capitol Inn for the past 10 years, said, “We generate a lot of business. We can feel an impact January through March when the legislative session begins and people come to town. We are fortunate the community is supportive. It’s been a really good 10 years,” said Alford.

She said “we generate a lot of lunch business” and “we have a lot of lobbyists for overnight occupancy.”

“We cater a lot of legislative receptions. All of the events are held in the gala ballroom. We have a wonderful staff and excellent food,” said Alford.

To prepare for the Legislature, the MHRA addresses governmental affairs issues at every quarterly meeting. Some of the issues the MHRA is working on requires discussion with legislators before the association can officially adopt a position. Cashion said he is a lobbyist and works to get the association’s agenda approved.

Longtime lobbyist Beth Clay, who has been actively involved with the Legislature since the 1980s, has a widely varied client base. “It consists of Fortune 500 companies as well as non-profits and industry associations,” said Clay.
She said, “I do find that the Legislature energizes the city by bringing a large influx of many varied entities who are interested in the legislative process, such as representatives of universities and colleges and other businesses.”

The Mississippi Economic Council held its Capital Day early in the session, said spokesman Scott Waller, because “it was a chance to spend time with the Legislature to get a feel for what is expected to happen.”

“It was a way to let the Legislature know the business community is paying attention to what is happening at the Capitol,” said Waller.

Waller said issues that will affect the MEC include insurance, education and education funding and providing incentives to increase tourism and film making in Mississippi.

The Mississippi Hospital Association (MHA) also held its legislative day early in the session. It met with legislators January 11 at the Hilton Hotel. Cheryn Baker, MHA vice president for government relations, said all state legislators were invited along with hospital administrators, members of hospital boards of trustees and senior staff from hospitals around the state.

“Securing additional funding to address Medicaid funding shortfalls for the current fiscal year is definitely a top priority,” said Baker.

Baker said the MHA will adamantly oppose any increases in hospital taxes to fund the Medicaid program. “We will also seek to clarify in the Medicaid statutes that only the Legislature has the power to increase taxes,” she noted.

Perry Nations, the former longtime director of the Mississippi Association of General Contractors (AGC), has taken on a new role. He is now director of legislative and workers’ comp services for the association. The association won’t hold an event like MEC’s Capital Day, but Nations will be monitoring his association’s bills at the Legislature.

Among the AGC agenda, said Nations, is a bill to introduce drug test results on workers’ compensation claims. “If you have a person impeded by alcohol or drugs, they’re endangering other people. We need more latitude as to whether we hire them back. It was introduced last year, but it got killed,” he said.

The Home Builders Association of Mississippi is among associations that don’t sponsor a Capital Day-style event, but do monitor their respective agendas. Marty Milstead, executive vice president for the HBAM, said it is supporting efforts to strengthen the residential housing industry.

”We are supporting legislation that would require licensed home builders to carry general liability and workers’ compensation insurance. The HBAM is also supporting continuing education for licensed home builders and would like to see up to four hours a year approved for continuing education,” said Milstead.

Milstead said his association will oppose any efforts to legalize a tax on the residential housing industry in the 2007 session. He noted the Supreme Court of Mississippi declared impact fees a tax in a lawsuit won by the home builders association against the City of Ocean Springs.

Like officials of other state associations, Milstead is a registered lobbyist and will work with legislators on the home builders’ agenda.

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