Q&A: Billy McCoy, Speaker of the House of Representatives

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Published: March 23,2009

Mississippi’s Speaker of the House Billy McCoy knows all too well the responsibility of a being decision maker and leader. With the House of Representative’s sessions coming to an end, the Mississippi Business Journal took an opportunity to chat with McCoy on his opinions, career and future.

Q — Why does the House of Representatives support extended unemployment benefits for Mississippians? Why does Gov. Haley Barbour accuse the House of being anti-business for supporting this measure?

A — The Mississippi House of Representatives believes that “people” benefits make good business sense. In these dire economic times many of our citizens are in uncharted waters fighting to survive and when money from our nation’s combined resources becomes available to meet problems for our individuals, my personal philosophy is that we should access them. If we don’t take advantage of the program, there are other states waiting to gobble up what should be Mississippi’s share. Not only are immediate cash benefits available to help families without jobs, but training to upgrade skills for more stable and better paying jobs come into play. I know of personal circumstances were my friends and even family members have had to down grade to part time jobs or not have any job through no fault of their own.

I don’t pretend to speak for Gov. Haley Barbour. I am sure he is sincere in his philosophy. We simply appear to have differences of opinion. From what I have read in the newspapers, Gov. Haley Barbour seems to have concerns about what might happen two, three or fours years down the road if we have to somehow absorb financial responsibility. Perhaps I am more optimistic that the governor and believe we will see economic improvement and we’ll have jobs for these people. Maybe the governor is taking a “doom and gloom” attitude. I simply point out that the people who rely on these financial benefits usually spend the money for immediate purchases and this is good business for existing companies.

Q — What is your assessment of Treasurer Tate Reeves’ comments that because of Mississippi accepting federal stimulus money, the state should not tap into the $362.5-million rainy day fund?

A — The rainy day fund is the state’s emergency account. We’re presently dealing with the 2010 fiscal budget. The Stimulus is beneficial and greatly appreciated. However, we have a responsibility to provide needed services to our citizens. After all, the rainy day fund belongs to the citizens, too.

Q — What Democrat(s) would you like to see run in the next gubernatorial election?

A — I want to see good Democrats run for offices where they are dedicated to public service, willing to work with all facets to make our state move ahead. I don’t get into specifics or name calling.

Q — Looking back over your career, what would you consider to be your crowning achievement(s) and biggest disappointments?

A — I am humbled by having been a part of many successful programs, but public education at all levels and highway funding are most visible. As Ways & Means chairman, I had the opportunity of helping our business atmosphere and led in creating the financial package that lured Nissan to Mississippi. I have been a part of every major economic project over the past quarter of a century

It’s hard to say what have been my disappointments. The partisan atmosphere that has enveloped the Capitol in recent years has distressed me as I’ve seen long-time colleagues with whom we worked hand-in-hand for many worthwhile projects be influenced by party dogma.

Q — You have served two terms as speaker. Will you run again?

A —The only thing that is certain about the future is its uncertainty. As you know, more than five years ago I suffered from some unexpected health set-backs, but I recovered and have experienced no further ill effects. I love to work for Mississippians. My people have been good to me in District 3, returning me to office time and again by large margins. My colleagues have been kind to me in electing me as their speaker. Having said all this, I simply continue to look forward and love coming to work every day, thinking I might be able to make a difference in some citizen’s life.

Q — Considering voter ID and early voting, do you think one will ever pass without the other being attached?

A — The House passed a good voter ID bill. For whatever reason, it was rejected by our Senate counterparts. That’s part of the legislative system. You know the old saying, “no legislation is dead until it’s dead, dead, dead.” I think Mississippi voters want the opportunity to vote early. That’s what the House included in the ID bill rejected by the Senate.

Q — There has been a lot of criticism of Republicans’ financial support of specific, partisan talk radio. Should there be an investigation into public funds being allocated for partisan support?

A — I defend freedom of the speech. Certainly, I think programs should include balance, and, as you know, this was part of the “fairness doctrine” that the Federal Communications Communication enforced until recent years when it was removed. It was part of the continuing license for broadcast media. I don’t think such a device was ever imposed on the print media. It’s all about responsibility and/or entertainment. I do not think public funds ought to support any partisan position.

Q — Does BIPAC (Business & Industry Political Action Committee) make fair evaluations when assessing the quality of business legislation?

A — My observation of BIPAC is that a Democrat with almost the same voting record as his Republican colleague can expect a lower approval rating on their annual score. I don’t know who votes for the legislators or exactly how the criteria is arrived at.

Q — What are your thoughts on Lt. Gov. Bryant’s plan to convert inventory tax payments made by business into tax credits?

A — We try to be fair in assessing taxes and not favor one entity at the expense of another. Inventory taxes are collected by local governments. Any change that reduces a revenue stream will need to be replaced with another. In present circumstances, it’s hard enough to manage the existing revenue stream without unduly placing a burden on another.

— Interviewed by Ross Reily

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