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Barbour unveils his budget plan

November 15th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour presented his Executive Budget Recommendation this afternoon.

Under Barbour’s outline, most state agencies would receive a cut of 8 percent in fiscal year 2012, compared with funding for the current budget year, which ends June 30.

Education, Medicaid, Corrections and the Mississippi Development Authority are a few of the agencies that were granted level funding. Of course, Barbour’s EBR means little right now. The actual budget-writing process won’t start for another three months or so.

There were no major surprises. State revenue collections have stayed flat, and there’s a whole lot of stimulus money that isn’t available, so cuts were expected. No agency will ultimately be very happy with its funding, but that’s been the case for a couple years now. In sum, the loss of stimulus money and an increase in the state’s share of the Medicaid match will create a shortfall of nearly $700 million.

One thing Magnolia Marketplace did notice about this year’s EBR press conference, though, is it lacked a lot of the bomast of last year’s, when Barbour recommended merging the Mississippi University for Women into Mississippi State, and Alcorn and Valley into Jackson State. Each recommendation was met with outrage from supporters of the affected schools.

Barbour did not explicitly make the same recommendations this year, but did note in his budget narrative that he continues to favor consolidation. He also reiterated his desire to cut the number of school districts statewide by a third. With elections next year, it’s not very likely either of those ideas will gain much traction once lawmakers return in January.

The budget — to go with job-creation — has been at or near the top of Barbour’s list of priorities since he took office nearly seven years ago. Election-year politics that he doesn’t have to engage in will drive the bulk of budget decisions, so how Barbour maneuvers within that — and how much he engages compared with years past — will be interesting to watch.

Barbour will set special election for MDOT post

November 1st, 2010 No comments

Mississippi’s political community got a double shot of sad news today.

Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor died suddenly of what appears to be a heart attack at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi. Minor was attending the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Sam Waggoner, who once represented the Central District on the Transportation Commission, passed away at his home in Flowood this morning.

Minor, 68, served in the state Senate before being elected to the MDOT post in 2003.

Minor’s death leaves vacant one of three spots on the Transportation Commission. According to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Gov. Haley Barbour will have to issue a proclamation within 15 days that would set the date for a special election. The election would have to occur within 60 days of that.

Hosemann said in a press release that he would recommend to Barbour that the qualifying deadline be at least 45 days before the special election, so officials would have adequate time to prepare ballots. Barbour is not bound by Hosemann’s recommendation, but it’s very likely he would follow it.

Minor was popular with his constituents. Magnolia Marketplace’s direct interaction with him was limited to a handful of times, but he was polite, accessible and never dodged a question. His successor has big shoes to fill.

Has KiOR reached a purchase agreement for its product? (Update)

October 26th, 2010 2 comments

Bluefire Renewables Inc., the California-based biofuel company that is building a facility in Fulton, has reached three major milestones recently.

The company has reached a feedstock agreement that will ensure it has the biomass it needs to produce ethanol, it has found a buyer for the ethanol, and it has let the contract to actually construct its facility.

Another biofuel company that plans to build in Mississippi, KiOR, will not receive any of the $75 million in benefits the Legislature approved for it in late summer until KiOR has reached a purchase agreement with an oil company (or companies) to buy the renewable crude oil and refine it.

KiOR CEO Fred Cannon said in late August that he and his team were “in final negotiations” with a buyer. With that in mind, Magnolia Marketplace has been trying since Monday morning to find out if an agreement has been finalized; and if not, how close one is to becoming finalized. Calls and emails to a KiOR spokesperson have not yet been returned. Gov. Haley Barbour’s spokesman Dan Turner was not exactly sure one way or the other. We’re currently awaiting a response from the Mississippi Development Authority.

It would seem nothing can move on this project until KiOR has found somebody to buy and refine the re-crude it plans to produce from timber. The bulk of the state money approved for the project will go toward construction costs and the equipment that will stock it.

So has a purchase agreement been reached? It’s not a hard question. When we get an answer, we’ll let you know.

UPDATE: A KiOR spokesperson just emailed Magnolia Marketplace and said there had been no off-take agreement reached, and that discussions between the company and potential buyers remain ongoing.

No firm timetable exists for executing a deal, but it’s our guess that they’d like to get one done as soon as possible.

Barbour to miss Hobnob

October 22nd, 2010 No comments

The Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob is next Thursday. Hundreds of business leaders and politicians will be there.

Gov. Haley Barbour will not.

According to Dan Turner, Barbour’s press secretary, the governor will spend that day in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania campaigning for GOP candidates before Nov. 2′s midterm elections. Barbour will be one part of a large contingent of Republican leadership who will embark on a last-minute blitz that starts Tuesday and ends Saturday.

“He’s not real excited about missing it,” Turner said of Barbour’s absence. “That’s his element.”

Scott Waller, senior VP for public affairs at the MEC, said this is the second Hobnob Barbour will miss, the first coming in 2005 in the aftermath of Katrina, when Barbour was in Washington and addressed the crowd via satellite uplink.

There’s a good reason Barbour has been at all the others. It’s the largest gathering of the business and political community of the year. Lots of people with lots of money who give that money to political campaigns of every stripe are always there. If you run for office at any level in Mississippi, it’s a can’t-miss.

Granted, Barbour isn’t running for office, at least not officially and at least not one in which only Mississippi voters can participate. And his position as chairman of the Republican Governors Association requires him to campaign nationally (though he would probably do that anyway) and we doubt anybody is all that offended that he won’t be there next Thursday. He will address the crowd via video.

But Barbour is still the governor of Mississippi. Helping our state recover from Katrina is a perfectly good reason for missing Hobnob. Pitching voters in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania is not. Barbour should have made time.

Barbour toots job-creation horn

October 14th, 2010 No comments

Most of the press releases that come out of Gov. Haley Barbour’s office have something to do with an event.

The governor’s holding a press conference. The governor’s filling an empty seat on a judicial bench. He’s making an appointment to a state agency. He’s setting the date for a special election.

If they aren’t announcing something, they usually contain a statement relevant to a recent event. Here lately, most of his comments have taken on a national tone, hitting on broad political themes.

But we’ve never seen one quite like the one that landed in Magnolia Marketplace’s inbox a few minutes ago. For one, at more than 900 words, it’s a lot longer than most. Second, it’s not really announcing anything. What it is doing is pointing out some of Barbour’s year-to-date economic development wins.

According to the release, more than 5,000 new jobs were created in the first three quarters of 2010 by state-assisted economic development projects. Mentioned are Will.Schulz GMBH — the German company that hopes to manufacture at its Tunica facility pipes for the natural gas industry — Lane Furniture’s expansion in Lee County and Southern Motion’s 200 new jobs in Pontotoc, among many others.

The 5,000 new jobs created with the state’s help in the first nine months of this year, says the release, are more than what were created in all of 2009. It also mentions, but does not give a figure, that job-creation has been spurred by projects that did not seek state assistance, financial or otherwise.

Every project listed in the release is old news. No ground is being broken, just re-tilled.

So what’s the point? Well, wouldn’t job-creation within his own state be a leg of any platform Barbour might use in a presidential campaign? Sure would. And it’s our guess that this won’t be the last press release of its kind that Barbour puts forth.

You can read the release in its entirety here.

Is the moratorium really over?

October 12th, 2010 No comments

Earlier today, the White House lifted the ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The moratorium, which was issued after the Deepwater Horizon’s Macondo Well started gushing April 21 in the Gulf of Mexico, was originally set to expire Nov. 30.

Two observations:

1. The Obama Administration was likely tired of the moratorium being an albatross around the neck of Democrats in the heat of midterm campaigns.

2. It likely will remain there.

Democrats and Republicans alike have already said the additional layer of safety rules and regulations attached to any new deepwater drilling are cumbersome. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, who has been holding up an Obama appointee in protest of the original ban, just issued a press release saying she will continue to do so while she monitors the speed with which drilling resumes.

Mississippi’s Third District Cong. Gregg Harper, R-Pearl, said in his own statement that the “Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) does not presently have adequate resources to allow for the resumption of offshore drilling. The federal government must provide these resources to ensure an efficient approval process for companies wishing to resume operations. Unless these new regulations are diligently implemented, we still have a de facto moratorium putting more jobs at risk.”

Gov. Haley Barbour said he looked forward “to receiving the details” of the lifted ban.

There’s likely a political devil or two in them.

Bryant, Dennis agree: No eminent domain for private use

September 30th, 2010 12 comments

If Dave Dennis and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant are going to butt heads over an issue in their bids to be the Republican nominee for governor in 2011, they’ll have to find something other than the use of eminent domain for private development.

Both are adamantly against it.

“I have long tried to find common ground between Farm Bureau and the Governor on this issue,” Bryant said in a press release. “There must be a balance between growing jobs in our state while not trampling the rights of our citizens. I am for property rights and congratulate Farm Bureau on what appears to be a successful petition drive.”

Bryant was referring to Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation handing over to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann Thursday morning 119,000 signatures of registered voters who oppose the use of eminent domain for private development. Mick Bullock, spokesman for Bryant, said the lieutenant governor was one of the folks who signed Farm Bureau’s petition.

Most likely, the issue will appear on the 2011 ballot. Bryant also alluded to Gov. Haley Barbour’s vehement opposition to the restriction. During the 2009 legislative session, Barbour vetoed a bill that would have eliminated the government’s power to employ eminent domain for projects that did not serve a direct public use, like roads or bridges. His veto was narrowly sustained in the Senate, after being overwhelmingly overridden in the House.

Barbour argued then that stripping government of the power to use eminent domain for private economic development would be deal-killers for major projects like Toyota and Nissan.

Dennis, a Gulfport businessman, disagrees.

“Plainly and simply, if a development is that good and that attractive and that resourceful, then there should be appropriate dollars associated (with it),” he said. “If somebody thinks there’s that good a return coming in, they should be willing to pay market or even premium-of-market value. If for some reason people still would not sell, then you work around them.”

Dennis told Magnolia Marketplace that he has had two pieces of property over the years seized by eminent domain, both times to clear the way for road-widening projects.

“That eminent domain I’m very comfortable with,” he said. “Eminent domain should not be used to take private property for private development. If you’ve got a piece of property that has stayed in your family, it’s hard for me to swallow somebody coming in and taking it.”

Farm Bureau delivers eminent domain signatures

September 29th, 2010 No comments

Looks like the question of whether to use eminent domain for private economic development projects will be on the 2011 ballot. Here’s a release Farm Bureau sent out earlier today:

JACKSON – The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation today delivered more than 118,000 certified signatures to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann so that the issue of eminent domain reform can be placed on the November 2011 ballot for the people of Mississippi to vote on.

After several failed attempts to get an eminent domain reform bill passed in the legislature, the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) decided to go the initiative route and gathered the necessary signatures to allow the people of Mississippi to speak on the issue of private property rights.

“For three years, Farm Bureau urged legislators to protect homeowners and landowners from confiscation of their private property by eminent domain, but to no avail,” said MFBF President David Waide.  “The 2009 Legislature passed H.B. 803, which prohibited the taking of private property under the guise of economic development for private development or business. Both House and Senate passed the bill, but Governor Barbour vetoed it.”

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London that a Connecticut city could take away people’s homes and turn the property over to a private party to develop the property for its own profit. The Court justified this result because the increased tax revenue on the developed property would benefit the public and the use of the property was, therefore, a public use.

Farm Bureau and many others disagree with this decision.

Since 2005, forty-four states have strengthened their private property rights laws to keep property from being taken by eminent domain and used for economic development.  This initiative will give the people of Mississippi the right to vote to ensure that eminent domain will be used only in the traditional ways for public use such as roads, schools, and utilities.

Two businessmen among Medal of Service recipients

September 27th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour announced this morning that he will present seven Mississippians with the Medal of Service tomorrow during a ceremony.

Among the recipients are former Lt. Gov. Brad Dye, former Ambassador John Palmer, former state Archives and History director Elbert Hilliard, former Meridian mayor Al Rosenbaum, the Rev. John Perkins of Jackson, and businessmen Harry Martin of Tupelo and Victor Mavar of Biloxi.

Martin owns and operates a real estate firm and is former president of Tupelo’s Community Development Foundation, where he served for 44 years.

Mavar is director emeritus of Hancock Bank and Holding Co., and has been involved in the radio business and the shrimping industry.

Barbour will present the medals at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in Jackson at the Woolfolk Building’s conference center east.

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Pledge is the new Contract

September 23rd, 2010 1 comment

Magnolia Marketplace was in the 9th grade in the fall of 1994, so we had no idea then what the Contract with America meant. The only contract we worried about was negotiating a deal with  the parents that would produce a vehicle that was all ours.

Sixteen years later, Republicans are dusting off the broad outline of its Contract with America and rebranding it as the Pledge to America. Different name (barely). Same principles (in fact, nearly identical).

Both plans were unveiled while there was a Democratic president in the White House who wasn’t very popular with anybody at the time, and when the economy wasn’t exactly blazing. Both seek to capitalize on voter fears and frustrations — whether they’re real or perceived — and stake Republicans to power in the halls of Congress. Both hit on general themes of fewer taxes and less government.

The Contract worked in 1994, launching the national political career of then-Rep. Roger Wicker and making current Gov. Haley Barbour, who was RNC head at the time, one of the most powerful and important members the GOP had seen since Ronald Reagan. He’s still considered such, probably more so than ever.

Predicting voter behavior isn’t easy, so who knows if the Pledge will prove as effective as the Contract. But you can be guaranteed that even though political winds will shift, they’ll eventually all blow in the same direction.