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Special session on the way?

October 20th, 2009 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace has had a hard time getting anybody in state government to acknowledge the existence of GreenTech Automotive, the hybrid car manufacturer that has plans to build a facility in Tunica. Getting a comment on the record, to this point, has been impossible.

That trend continued this afternoon. There have been whispers the past few days that there was a special session in the works whose call would include GreenTech. Dan Turner, spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour, said he had heard of some “discussions” regarding a special session but would not confirm or deny whether the agenda, which Barbour would control, would include GreenTech. For that matter, Turner did not confirm or deny there would even be a special session.

“There’s just not much I can tell you,” he said.

So that’s where we are. Magnolia Marketplace will be at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob tomorrow. Barbour is scheduled to speak. We’ll ask him about it then.

New automotive plant in Tunica?

October 6th, 2009 No comments

Updated at 3:15 p.m.: Here is the official GreenTech press release.

A start-up automotive company unveiled prototypes of the cars it one day hopes to build at a plant in Tunica.

Chinese businessman Charles Wang, CEO of GreenTech Automotive, said in a press release, according to the Associated Press, that he hopes to build 250,000 hybrid vehicles a year at the $6 billion plant on a 1,500 acre mega-site in Tunica County.

Employment at the plant, according to Wang, would hover around 4,500.

To this point, scarce few details have been made available from Wang, Gov. Haley Barbour’s office or the Mississippi Development Authority. An MDA representative reached by Magnolia Marketplace declined comment this morning, citing confidentiality agreements.

For details on this morning’s unveiling ceremony, click here.

State revenues down 10 percent in September

October 1st, 2009 No comments

State Economist Dr. Phil Pepper told the Joint Legislative Budget Committee a week ago today that the long-term revenue outlook for the state was not very good.

The short-term forecast looks positively dreadful.

September tax collection numbers surfaced today, and they aren’t pretty. Overall, the state brought in $404.9 million last month, 10 percent under revenue estimates officials made only three months ago. The total shortfall for the month was just short of $45 million.

August offered a sliver of hope that the trend of monthly revenue shortages could be coming to an end. Gov. Haley Barbour said then the Cash for Clunkers program probably had a lot to do with August revenue falling only about 2 percent short of estimates.

September’s sales tax figures were $13.6 million, or almost 9 percent, under estimates, bolstering Barbour’s argument that Cash for Clunkers artificially inflated August sales tax collections. Individual income tax collections in September were almost 14 percent, or $22.7 million, short of what the Revenue Estimating Group, of which Pepper is a member, thought they would be.

Barbour has already made cuts to the fiscal year 2010 budget, slashing $172 million from K-12 education spending on Sept. 3. Barbour, who is in the middle of a two and a half week economic development trip to Asia, has said since then that more cuts are almost a guarantee. For the first quarter of FY10, revenue is already $77 million (more than 7.5 percent) shy of expectations. Judging from September’s revenue, trimming the budget will be at the top of Barbour’s to-do list when he returns home.

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Looking back and looking ahead

September 14th, 2009 No comments

Pretty intense football weekend, wasn’t it? Georgia and South Carolina came down to the wire. Notre Dame lost to Michigan in the worst way possible, as did Ohio State to USC. New Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen’s first SEC game would have gone a lot better had Tim Tebow still been his quarterback. Ole Miss was in a slugfest with H1N1.

Magnolia Marketplace was unusually quiet last week, thanks to a combination of a server that has yet to behave the way it should, and a mountain of work on long-term stuff.

The regular edition of the MBJ published this week has a story about a former in-house counsel at Toyota who has alleged in a lawsuit that the company hindered his investigations related to rollover lawsuits from 2004 to 2007, altered some of his findings or destroyed evidence all together. Pretty serious stuff.

Toyota has filed a motion with the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, where the suit was filed, to have the documents sealed. For now, though, they are a part of the public record, and there is some pretty inflammatory language coming from the plaintiff, who once was the architect of Toyota’s defense of the thousands of rollover claims.

In other Toyota litigation news, the Prius Hybrid, which is scheduled for production in Blue Springs at some point, is the star of a lawsuit Paice LLC filed against Toyota. It focuses on the the hybrid technology itself. This isn’t the first time Paice and Toyota have engaged in legal warfare. The two share an extensive history.

Also, Gov. Haley Barbour will hold a symposium focusing on healthcare and energy and will also unveil an initiative aimed at helping small businesses tomorrow afternoon at the Jackson Convention Complex. Staff writer Nash Nunnery will be there to provide coverage for the MBJ.

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No surprise: State’s budget under the axe

September 3rd, 2009 No comments

In what Magnolia Marketplace all but predicted yesterday, Gov. Haley Barbour has announced he is cutting $171.9 million from the budget for fiscal year 2010. The cuts will affect almost every agency, including education. Spared were Medicaid, the Mississippi Department of Corrections and court-ordered expenditures and debt service.

Not every facet of the education budget came under the gun. The National Board Certification program and student financial aid line items remain whole — “for now,” Barbour said.

The National Board Certification program is significant. It pays teachers who meet the standards a $6,000 annual salary supplement. The program was up for debate during budget negotiations in May and June. Dozens of teachers showed up at the Capitol and, as you might expect, let lawmakers know they wanted to keep their money.

The fiscal year is barely two months old, and the budget is already smaller than it was when it started. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee meets later this month to begin drafting rough outlines for next fiscal year’s budget. Care to guess what the overriding theme will be?

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Barbour to address budget

September 2nd, 2009 No comments

Just got word from Gov. Barbour’s office that there will be a press conference at 1 p.m. Thursday in which Barbour will, according to a news release, announce “major decisions” pertaining to the state’s FY10 budget, which has been active about two months now.

With revenues continuing to lag behind even dire estimates — August’s revenue was short about 2 percent — it seems pretty likely that state agencies will have their budgets cut. Barbour has hinted at the possibility the past week or so.

State budget writers are scheduled to meet later this month to start the process of hammering out the spending outline for FY11, which doesn’t start for another 10 months. The outlook, though, is already dim.

As usual, Magnolia Marketplace will be there Thursday and will post the particulars ASAP.

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Governor, First Lady salute Katrina volunteers

August 27th, 2009 No comments

As we mentioned yesterday, Gov. Barbour and First Lady Marsha Barbour were scheduled to honor two volunteers who helped Mississippi out a whole bunch after Hurricane Katrina. Honor them they did.

Ellen Ratner and Cholene Espinoza, two New Yorkers who work for Talk Radio News Service, were at the Governor’s Mansion this afternoon to be recognized for the work they did after Katrina. Barbour said for the first 12 months after Katrina, the state was able to capture the names and addresses of 600,000 different volunteers who helped with the recovery.

“They came from literally every state in the country and many from outside the United States,” the governor said

Ratner and Espinoza played a big part in the building of the Marsha Barbour Community Resource Center in DeLisle in Harrison County. “They took the bull by the horns and they raised the money and put the team together, the team on the ground,” Gov. Barbour said.

Dedication for the Center is Saturday. It will feature a swimming pool, computer lab, a medical room to treat minor medical issues, a basketball court and everything else a community center needs.

“The only way I can reconcile the images of Katrina is if something good came of it,” Espinoza said.

Ratner, in her role as the host of a liberal-leaning talk show, has known Barbour a while. She had a lot of good things to say about Marsha Barbour and her work immediately after the storm.

“This is an amazing story and it’s an amazing story of true leadership,” Ratner said.

Ratner and Espinoza are only two of the army of people who spent their own time and money to help South Mississippi get back on its feet. As big as the storm was, the helping hand we got was even bigger. That’s probably one of the most important things to remember as the fourth anniversary approaches.

So to Ratner, Espinoza and all the others: Thanks, ya’ll.

Governor, First Lady holding press conference

August 26th, 2009 No comments

Gov. Barbour and his wife Marsha will hold a press conference tomorrow afternoon to recognize some of the volunteers who have helped South Mississippi with the recovery from Hurricane Katrina and who have had a hand in the development of the Marsha Barbour Community Resource Center in Pass Christian. If you’ll remember, the First Lady was on the frontlines during and after the storm. The details of the press conference will be posted as soon as it’s over.

The four-year anniversary of Katrina is this Saturday. Hard to believe. Magnolia Marketplace is playing in a charity golf tournament in Gulfport that day, a day that should carry a lot of emotions for our fine folks on the Coast.

State Port at Gulfport

August 19th, 2009 No comments

Moving forward there hopefully will be a new post before this time every morning, but Magnolia Marketplace has just gotten Internet service back after losing it late yesterday afternoon. The final tally: One replaced ethernet cord and one very patient, helpful and probably frustrated IT guy at the corporate office in Minnesota. To some news …

My trip to Gulfport last month for the “ground-making” ceremony at the State Port was one of the neatest things I’ve done since I started here.

Several college buddies live on the Coast, and I’d passed both Port entrances probably 100 times, but the ceremony was the first time it had registered. What jumped out immediately were the hundreds of tractor trailers that had the Chiquita Banana logo on them.

Anyway, the Port is undergoing a rebuilding and expansion as part of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Word came yesterday afternoon that the Mississippi State Port Authority had awarded a contract to Pennsylvania-based Geospatial Holdings to map the Port’s underground pipeline utilities. Geospatial is part of a team that includes Mississippi Engineering Group, part of Jackson-based Waggoner Engineering, and Pickering Engineers, which is based in Memphis but has offices in Jackson, Pearl, Southaven and Biloxi. The group will eventually map above-ground and underground utilities before the heavy lifting of the 20-acre expansion can start.

By itself the underground mapping contract, according to a press release, is expected to be worth about $3 million over three years. The overall cost of the expansion is $22.5 million, paid for with federal money. Along with expanding it, the Port will eventually be elevated to 25 feet above sea level to minimize damage from future hurricanes. Gov. Haley Barbour’s decision to set aside $570 million in Community Development Block Grants to pay for the elevation has drawn a lawsuit from the NAACP and criticism from several Democrats in Congress who want that money used for low- and moderate-income housing. The lawsuit is ongoing.