MDA reporting bill heads to the House

mda-logoA bill designed to provide lawmakers an annual glimpse into the financial workings of the Mississippi Development Authority cleared the Senate one day before the Feb. 14 deadline.

The bill would mandate the MDA provide lawmakers an annual rundown of the tax credits, grants, loans and repayment schedules the agency uses to lure new industry. Included would be the number of jobs the receiving business promised versus how many jobs have actually been created.

Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, authored the legislation and said it would serve as a “report card.”

“Over the past few years, the Legislature has passed numerous incentive programs. We need to know whether those incentive programs are working, and whether businesses create the jobs that were promised.”

Blount said the bill was not in response to any one event, like last year’s failure of solar panel maker Twin Creeks. The Senatobia company had been approved to receive a total of $50 million in incentives, and had gotten about half before going under and selling off to a competitor. The state and the company recently settled a lawsuit that gives the state up to $10 million in future royalties. The state is currently marketing Twin Creeks’ former 80,000 square-foot building to prospects.

Shortly after Twin Creeks’ failure, Gov. Phil Bryant said he would prefer economic development incentives be awarded to companies with proven track records. Blount said his bill would provide an extra layer of protection in furthering that approach.

“We need incentive packages for established businesses like Toyota or Nissan, but any incentive package, rebate, credit is not free. It impacts the state budget, which funds public schools, universities, healthcare, prosecutors and prisons, all vital services. We need the information to do a thorough cost-benefit analysis. That’s why we need the data. We need to know exactly what a specific package would cost.”

Blount said he gathered input from the MDA while the bills was being crafted, and tweaked some of the reporting dates to better line up with the agency’s accounting schedules. He said the bill was not intended to be an assault on the agency.

“This is absolutely not an anti-MDA measure. It’s certainly not meant to put them at a competitive disadvantage. This is simply a report card, in much the same way we get report cards from school districts and a lot of other state agencies.”

A specific figure was unclear, but some states have similar requirements for their economic development agencies.

One is Florida, where MDA executive director Brett Christensen was before he came to Mississippi last year.

Christensen and the MDA issued late last year a report similar to what Blount’s bill would mandate. Christensen said then that he planned to make it an annual tradition, much the same way that Florida required.

“It’s something that I feel is important. We’re entrusted with a number of funds that we use for economic development, the primary reason for which is to add jobs in the state. I think it’s important for us to issue this on an annual basis. We’re entrusted with this money.

“We need to let legislators know, we need to let the public know what this money is utilized for.”

An MDA spokesperson did not respond to a phone message seeking comment on Blount’s bill.

“I want to continue to work with the MDA on this,” Blount said. “You need this information to make intelligent decisions.”

The bill passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday morning, with no discussion. Its next stop is the House.

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