PID legislation seeks to curb defaults

January 22nd, 2012 No comments

The good and the bad of the public improvement district movement in Mississippi can be found in Madison County, right next to each other.

Ridgeland’s Colony Park PID has flourished, anchored by Renaissance at Colony Park and its retail and housing units that have turned the Highland Colony Park area into one of Metro Jackson’s most successful. It’s adding amenities. Officials broke ground last fall on bike trails and walking paths paid for by transportation enhancement funds from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Just to the north of Colony Park, winding from Madison to Gluckstadt, Parkway-East PID represents the inherent financial risk some PIDs carry. It is named after a 4-mile, four-lane boulevard that runs parallel to I-55 and connects Madison and Gluckstadt. Late last year, developers were unable to service the PID’s debt, and plans for a waterpark and an amphitheater stalled. Because Madison County guaranteed the bonds, taxpayers there had to shoulder the financial burden. In October, the county was officially on the hook for nearly $400,000.

The concept of a PID is simple: Property owners can gather and essentially tax themselves to build something or provide a service their city or county otherwise could not. Some PIDs have convinced counties or other local government entities to guarantee their debt.

For those who have, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is proposing instituting standards that would govern post-construction valuation practices. The proposal is one part of Hosemann’s bundle of business reform legislation he will submit this session.

“Unfortunately, because of the success of some of these PIDS, they went and replicated it, and some of them have failed,” Hosemann said. “We have quantified the method of valuation of property post-construction. Some of these have had some enthusiastic appraisals. They didn’t materialize, and the liens on the property were so high that they eventually forfeited to the state, which does no good for anybody.”

As of late Wednesday, the bill had not yet been introduced. The bill-filing pace at the Capitol started to quicken last week after an abnormally slow start due to the installation of new leadership in both chambers.

When it is filed, the legislation would require the appraisal of PID property post-construction to adhere to standards other commercial and residential property is already subject to. It would only apply to PIDs with government-backed loans. The way the law reads now, there are no standards governing post-construction valuation of PIDs.

“This would utilize standards that were proposed by real estate appraisers and tax assessors,” Hosemann said. The bill is the result of committees made up of business professionals and government officials Hosemann formed.

“Clearly, there were holes in the valuation process of some sort because we’ve had a giant default,” Hosemann said. “We want to make sure everybody has taken a real close look at all this and we have good appraisal methodology. We need confidence that the guaranty of the county is not going to be called upon.”

Derrick Surrette, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, sat on the committee that formulated the PID legislation.

“Some of these PIDs just haven’t performed like they thought they would” and have created a financial burden for counties that have backed them, he said.

“It’s a tax. That’s the nuts and bolts of it. We have to make certain taxpayers are protected, and I think this has the potential to do that. Another thing I hope this bill will do is prevent counties from being stuck with property with a tax lien that’s worth more than the property itself. I hope it will allow these counties to sell these properties. PIDs can be a good thing. They’re not all bad. But when they do go bad, they’re a tax; in some cases, an expensive tax.”

Economist: With state’s economy vulnerable, expect slow growth

January 19th, 2012 No comments

Mississippi’s economy isn’t terrible.

It isn’t great, either, and it’s going to be a while before it totally rebounds from the last few years.

That was the gist of Thursday morning’s legislative economic briefing by state economist Dr. Darrin Webb and state Treasurer Lynn Fitch.

Webb said the fourth quarter of 2011 was strong, with state revenue up 3.8 percent at year end versus the same period last year. “But I do not expect to maintain that pace,” he told lawmakers.

Where the state is especially vulnerable is employment. Webb’s figures show that there are still fewer people in Mississippi employed now than there were in May 2000, when the state’s number of nonfarm employees peaked. Employment numbers have recovered somewhat from the depths of 2008 and 2009, but not across the board.

“There are still areas of the state that have not participated in the recovery,” Webb said, singling out rural areas of the state where unemployment rates are still closer to 20 percent than 10 percent. It will be at least 2016 before employment rates in the state return to pre-recession levels, Webb said.

More discouraging news can be found in the number of building permits issued. In the first seven months of 2005, right before Hurricane Katrina hit, 7,615 permits were issued. For the same period in 2011, that number dropped to 2,580, a decrease of 66 percent. Permits did trend upward in the second half of 2011, Webb said, but cannot be expected to return to pre-Katrina level for another few years.

The national economy will likely slow in the first half of 2012, Webb said. Fading inventory, a weak housing sector, high government and consumer debt and trouble in Europe will make sure of that.

“And these are issues that just are not going to disappear anytime soon,” Webb said.

National GDP has started the process of recovering from the recession, showing modest growth in 2011 (1.7 percent). That will slow in 2012, Webb said, to 0.2 percent; 0.5 percent in 2013; with the possibility of a jump in 2014 to 3.1 percent. Mississippi’s GDP will follow a similar track. The overall outlook for both, Webb said, is pessimistic “but that doesn’t mean worst case.” Webb estimated the chances of another recession at 30 percent.

“I cannot stress enough the slow pace of this recovery,” he said. “As a rule, slow growth is the new norm.”

Fitch said low interest rates and the availability of GO Zone bonds after Katrina were the primary culprits for the state’s bonded indebtedness increasing over $1 billion the past six years. At year end 2011, the state’s total amount of bond obligations was $4.1 billion, representing about 12 percent of the constitutional debt limit for FY 2012. All but $995,000 of that came from general obligation bonds. That $995,000 is a self-supporting bond, Fitch said, and is paying for the Deer Island restoration project. That will be paid off in November.

Tax credit ‘pass-through’ part of Hosemann’s business legislation proposals

January 17th, 2012 No comments

One piece of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s legislative bundle seeks to wring more use out of a jobs tax credit the state makes available to business start-ups in Mississippi.

What the bill would do is allow for an employee “pass-through” of a jobs tax credit that currently benefits only business owners. 

“What it does is if you had an entity, a corporation or an entity that’s being taxed, and you’ve just started out, you probably didn’t make money the first year,” Hosemann said. “Most businesses don’t. So you have job credits and other things that accrue to the business that are not used.”

Although the state has obligated itself to awarding the credit, there is no taxable income to trigger it, so it lies dormant.

Employers who would otherwise be ineligible for the jobs tax credit could shift it to their employees in $250 increments, according to the legislation, which hasn’t officially been filed yet, but will be before the bill deadline next month, Hosemann said.

Hosemann said he and his staff consulted with the Mississippi Department of Revenue in arriving at the $250 increments, “so we don’t have a bunch of $8 credits or something like that” awarded.

“For example, if I had a $50,000 jobs tax credit and I had 200 employees, I could give each of them $250 worth of credit on their personal income taxes,” Hosemann said. “(Business owners) can give them to their lowest-paid employee or their highest-paid employee. We left them flexible, but it’s the same dollars that we obligated to give them as a credit for coming here anyway.”

A primary benefit of allowing an employer-only tax credit to pass through to employees, Hosemann said,  is it would make Mississippi more competitive with neighboring state Tennessee in attracting new industry. Tennessee has no personal income tax. Mississippi does, and Hosemann said that puts economic developers  — especially those close to the Tennessee border in North Mississippi – at a disadvantage.

“Of course, they’re taxed really at a higher level than we are, based on property taxes and a few others, but it sounds good to say that there’s no income tax. It’s a barrier to us attracting industry here. This makes me competitive with Tennessee, because now I don’t have any personal income tax, either.”

In 2010, Mississippi and Tennessee both offered what were termed by a company spokesperson “very generous” incentives for Pinnacle Airlines to expand its corporate headquarters and locate its 600 employees. At the time, Pinnacle’s total number of employees nationally had just grown to nearly 8,000 after it bought Mesaba Aviation from Delta Airlines. The move made Pinnacle’s corporate headquarters a trophy economic development project.

One of the sites Pinnacle considered was in DeSoto County. The company ultimately picked Memphis.

“Now we’re using it at the employee level, instead of it sitting there not being used, or in the case of Tennessee, being used against us,” Hosemann said.

MPA head: ‘Long list’ of Barbour pardons not advertised beforehand

January 12th, 2012 No comments

An email from Mississippi Press Association executive director Layne Bruce says that “a long list” of Gov. Haley Barbour’s last-minute pardons were not properly advertised in advance, as required by state law.

That’s the crux of the argument Attorney General Jim Hood made Wednesday before Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green in his attempt to gain an injunction to stop the release of some of those pardoned who were still in prison.

In the email. sent Wednesday night, Bruce told members of a MPA listserv that a search by MPA staff members to determine if each of the pardons met the 30-day notice requirement before the pardons were issued “turned up quite a long list of those that didn’t. In more than one case, the public notice for someone requesting a pardon won’t even start publishing until tomorrow (Thursday), two days after the former governor signed the pardon order.”

Green apparently had similar doubts about some of the pardons meeting the advertising requirement, because at Hood’s request she signed an order Wednesday evening halting the release of the still-incarcerated pardons.

What this means in the long run, it’s hard to tell. That the MPA, whose member newspapers in a lot of cases would serve as the advertising medium, has already determined many of Barbour’s pardons were not properly noticed certainly does not bode well for the validity of what the former governor did.

Complicating things is Butler Snow’s announcement Wednesday afternoon that Barbour had joined the firm.

Why would that be troublesome? Butler Snow serves as MPA’s general counsel.

In statement, Barbour addresses pardons

January 11th, 2012 2 comments

Former Gov. Haley Barbour has just released a statement after a good 24 hours of sound and fury relating to his last-minute pardon/clemency binge.

Here it is, in full:

Some people have misunderstood the clemency process and think that all or most of the individuals who received clemency from former Gov. Haley Barbour were in jail at the time of their release. Approximately 90 percent of these individuals were no longer in custody, and a majority of them had been out for years. The pardons were intended to allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote. My decision about clemency was based upon the recommendation of the Parole Board in more than 90 percent of the cases. The 26 people released from custody due to clemency is just slightly more than one-tenth of 1 percent of those incarcerated.

Half of the people who were incarcerated and released were placed on indefinite suspension due to medical reasons because their health care expenses while incarcerated were costing the state so much money. These individuals suffer from severe chronic illnesses, are on dialysis, in wheelchairs or are bedridden. They are not threats to society but if any of them commits an offense – even a misdemeanor – they’ll be returned to custody to serve out their term.

Of the inmates released for medical reasons, a small number were placed on house arrest, and all still remain under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.

In Custody at Time of Release

  • Medical Release/Remain Under    MDOC Supervision (13)
  • Suspended Sentence/ Remain Under MDOC Supervision (3)
26 (12 percent)
Previously Completed Incarceration at Time of Clemency 189 (88 percent)
Total 215

Source: Mississippi Department of Corrections

See related story on Barbour’s pardons:
Judge puts release of Barbour’s pardoned prisoners on hold
Categories: Haley Barbour, News Tags:

Bryant starts his new job reinforcing familiar themes

January 10th, 2012 No comments

Other than anecdotes about his family, there wasn’t much new in Gov. Phil Bryant’s inaugural address.

Like he has for most of the past four years, Bryant used his platform to talk economic issues: job-creation, education, the high cost of teenage pregnancy and his political pet project, performance-based budgeting.

The energy and healthcare industries, Bryant said, are two areas ripe for growth over the next decade-plus. The extraction and processing of natural gas, biofuels and clean coal can – and according to Bryant, will – help the state in its revolution from low-wage industrial haven to modern manufacturing empire.

Offering incentives for the healthcare industry, and bringing 1,000 new physicians to Mississippi by 2025, can turn the state’s metro areas and their medical corridors into burgeoning centers of medical power, Bryant said.

Having a stable of workers to fill those jobs will require a shift in thinking when it comes to public education, he said. Solutions don’t begin and end with funding, but will take redesigning curriculums to better serve students not on a college track, but headed for vocational employment, and a clearer path for charter schools to establish.

“When a Mississippian has a job, it changes absolutely everything,” Bryant said.

Bryant saved his strongest words for the state’s high teenage pregnancy rate, which has become as much of a Mississippi hallmark as the state’s musical and literary heritage.

“It must come to an end,” he said, adding that churches and other religious organizations have to partner with public institutions in reaching that end. “We can no longer turn our heads and pretend the problem doesn’t exist.”

Bryant compared the cultural change that would have to happen to do that to the one that has managed to eradicate smoking in nearly every public building and gathering spot in Mississippi, including the Capitol. He noted that a lot of folks 40 years ago would have filled the place with cigarette and cigar smoke during his address.

Obviously, Bryant’s plans will be met with a great deal of resistance in the Capitol, some from within his own party, but mostly from Democrats, who just watched their long-held power and influence all but evaporate.

Bryant’s Smart Budget Act, which bases agency funding on results achieved, is wildly popular with fiscal conservatives, but not with many agency heads, who cite the difficulty in tracking those results, not to mention the ease with which those results can be manipulated.

With a Republican-led Legislature, though, its passage is likely, if not guaranteed. The same goes for Bryant’s education reforms, though it’s worth noting the funding fight is likely to be as spirited as it’s ever been.

The wild card in that notion will be just how badly new legislative leadership – Speaker Phillip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves – want to return Mississippi’s government to one in which lawmakers hold the majority of power.

Either way, the game is afoot.

Bryant mixes old, new in agency appointments

January 9th, 2012 No comments

Gov.-elect Phil Bryant filled out his list of agency appointments Monday afternoon, a few days after he named Jim Barksdale as interim head of the Mississippi Development Authority.

New faces include Mark Henry at the Department of Employment Security, Rickey Berry at Human Services and Dr. David Dzielak at Medicaid. Robert Latham will lead MEMA, though he was the agency’s executive director during Katrina, so he’s not totally new.

The rest of the state agencies kept their current leaders.

Here’s a full list:

Bureau of Narcotics: Marshall L. Fisher

Corrections: Chris Epps

MEMA: Robert Latham

Employment Security: Mark Henry

Environmental Quality: Trudy Fisher

Finance and Administration: Kevin Upchurch

Human Services: Rickey Berry

Medicaid: Dr. David Dzielak

Marine Resources: Dr. Bill Walker

Public Safety: Albert Santa Cruz

Categories: News, Phil Bryant Tags:

Regulatory review legislation tries again

January 8th, 2012 No comments

Mississippi has a law on the books that is supposed to educate businesses on the effects of new rules and regulations.

An effort to strengthen that law and to establish a commission whose members would include business owners to review new rules will soon be a part of the 2012 legislative session.

According to the federal Office of Advocacy, Mississippi is one of 26 states that already have a partial regulatory flexibility statute, meaning there is already a mechanism in place to alert businesses of how new rules will impact them, and ways rules can be altered after they’re enacted.

Legislation to create a full-blown review of proposed rules before they take effect has cleared the Senate in past sessions and has been on the calendar for floor debate in the House, but has failed to advance.

“It would allow us to look and see if there’s a more flexible way to alter the rules and regulations that come out, to where the intent can still apply without inflicting a (financial) burden,” said Ron Aldridge, director of the Mississippi National Federation of Independent Businesses. The organization has spent several sessions lobbying for a review commission. “That’s what this is about, is to put into law in Mississippi a framework where small business owners can sit on a commission and give feedback to the agencies as the rules are being put into place but before they take effect. The way it works now, if they do harm on the front end, you can alter them later. By then, though, they’ve done their damage.”

Aldridge listed as an example Mississippi’s window tint law, last modified in 2005, in which the Mississippi Department of Public Safety mandated tint darker than a particular shade be inspected, and receive clearance for road use. The process is similar to the one that governs state inspection stickers for vehicles. Law enforcement agencies are allowed to have darker tint on their vehicles than civilians.

“It ended up that these places that did the inspections, it was going to cost them so much to deal with these rules it wasn’t any way they could actually do it,” Aldridge said. “The people who would have been impacted by it never got to sit down with the agency and figure out a way to make it work before the rule was passed.”

Aldridge said a number of rule-making state agencies have opposed the legislation, for the same reasons they opposed the original administrative procedures law passed in 2003 and officially put on the books in 2005. Former secretary of state Eric Clark pushed that legislation, which requires agencies to project what kind of impact new regulations might have on targeted businesses.

“But it doesn’t give any frame of reference for that,” Aldridge said. “In other words, what do they mean when they say small business. This review commission would define that, and it would make agencies more clearly state what the impact would be. Right now, all they have to do is say this has no impact, or little or minimal impact. How do they know? Unless you’ve been in that business yourself, you don’t know. Minimal impact for one person could have an entirely different meaning for another. One size does not fit all. Also, a commission will let us look at what’s already in place and see if there are any modifications to rules that have proven to be harmful that will maintain their purpose but reduce or eliminate the costs associated.”

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Laurel, has sponsored since 2008 legislation that would create a regulatory review commission. He said in an interview last week he plans to do the same this session.

“It’s always good to have honest feedback from business professionals and business owners. They need to know very specifically on the front end what a new rule will mean for them.”

Aldridge and McDaniel are optimistic new House leadership will be amenable to the bill’s passage. Gov. –elect Phil Bryant has already endorsed the idea, and may introduce a bill of his own, according to a press release from his office.

“I think the chances of its passage are greatly improved,” McDaniel said.

Democrats, freshmen dot Reeves’ committee chairs

January 6th, 2012 No comments

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves revealed his committee assignments Friday morning.

There were no major surprises. Democrats will chair 17 of the Senate’s 39 committees. Of those 17, the most powerful are probably Judiciary B, chaired by Hob Bryan; and Highways and Transportation, chaired by Willie Simmons.

Five Senators in their first terms will serve as chairs. Melanie Sojourner, D-Natchez, leads that list as head of the Forestry Committee.

The old Fees and Salaries Committee is now the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee, chaired by Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, who is serving her first term.

The old Oil and Gas Committee and the old Public Utilities Committee have been merged, creating the new Energy Committee.

“This was an incredibly difficult task,” Reeves said. Reeves said he wanted to include Democrats for chairmanships to properly reflect the make-up of the Senate and the state. “That hasn’t happened in the past in the other chamber,” he said, referring to former House Speaker Billy McCoy appointing only Democrats to chairmanships.

Here’s the full list of committees, and their chairmen and vice chairmen:

Accountability Efficiency and Transparency

Nancy Collins, Chairman

J.P. Wilemon, Vice Chairman

Agriculture

Billy Hudson, Chairman

Russell Jolly, Vice Chairman

Appropriations

Buck Clarke, Chairman

Terry Burton, Vice Chairman

Business and Financial Institutions

Gary Jackson, Chairman

J.P. Wilemon, Vice Chairman

Compilation, Revision and Publication

Derrick Simmons, Chairman

Dean Kirby, Vice Chairman

Congressional Redistricting

Merle Flowers, Chairman

Chris McDaniel, Vice Chairman

Constitution

Michael Watson, Chairman

Will Longwitz, Vice Chairman

Corrections

Sampson Jackson, Chairman

Lydia Chassanoil, Vice Chairman

County Affairs

Nickey Browning, Chairman

Billy Hudson Vice, Chairman

Drug Policy

David Jordan, Chairman

Michael Watson, Vice Chairman

Economic Development

John Horhn, Chairman

Steve Hale Vice, Chairman

Education

Gray Tollison, Chairman

Nancy Collins, Vice Chairman

Elections

Chris McDaniel, Chairman

David Blount, Vice Chairman

Energy

Merle Flowers, Chairman

Giles Ward, Vice Chairman

Enrolled Bills

Alice Harden, Chairman

Kelvin Butler, Vice Chairman

Environmental Protection, Conservation and Water Resources

Tommy Gollott, Chairman

Deborah Dawkins, Vice Chairman

Ethics

Bennie Turner, Chairman

Gary Jackson, Vice Chairman

Executive Contingent Fund

Robert Jackson, Chairman

Gray Tollison, Vice Chairman

Finance

Joey Fillingane, Chairman

Merle Flowers, Vice Chairman

Forestry

Melanie Sojourner, Chairman

Giles Ward, Vice Chairman

Highways and Transportation

Willie Simmons, Chairman

Perry Lee, Vice Chairman

Housing

Hillman Frazier, Chairman

Chris Massey, Vice Chairman

Insurance

Videt Carmichael, Chairman

Rita Parks, Vice Chairman

Interstate and Federal Co-op

Kenny Wayne Jones, Chairman

Sampson Jackson, Vice Chairman

Investigate State Offices

Albert Butler, Chairman

Videt Carmichael, Vice Chairman

Judiciary A

Briggs Hopson, Chairman

Bennie Turner, Vice Chairman

Judiciary B

Hob Bryan, Chairman

Chris McDaniel, Vice Chairman

Labor

Kelvin Butler, Chairman

Robert Jackson, Vice Chairman

Legislative Reapportionment and Congressional Redistricting

Merle Flowers, Chairman

Local and Private

Perry Lee, Chairman

Tony Smith, Vice Chairman

Municipalities

J.P. Wilemon, Chairman

Bill Stone, Vice Chairman

Ports and Marine Resources

Brice Wiggins, Chairman

Public Health and Welfare

Dean Kirby, Chairman

Hob Bryan, Vice Chairman

Public Property

David Blount, Chairman

Sally Doty, Vice Chairman

State Library

Deborah Dawkins, Chairman

Albert Butler, Vice Chairman

Tourism

Lydia Chassanoil, Chairman

Sean Tindal, Vice Chairman

Universities and Colleges

Terry Burton, Chairman

John Polk, Vice Chairman

Veterans and Military Affairs

Haskins Montgomery, Chairman

Philip Moran, Vice Chairman

Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks

Giles Ward, Chairman

Angela Hill, Vice Chairman

UMMC lays off 115 employees

January 4th, 2012 No comments

University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson has just announced that it will reduce its workforce by 2 percent, by eliminating 90 vacant positions and laying off 115 employees.

That’s bad news for one of the state’s largest employers.

Here’s the full press release:

The University of Mississippi Medical Center is reducing the size of its workforce by approximately 115 employees today.

Coupled with a decision to not fill 90 vacant positions, the UMMC workforce will be about 2 percent smaller than it was at the end of 2011, according to Dr. James E. Keeton, vice chancellor for health affairs.

Keeton said a number of factors combined to cause the cutbacks in staffing, but the most compelling are the poor economy and the increase in uninsured and underinsured patients.  Weak economic conditions have dampened demand for clinical services and increased the ranks of the state’s unemployed, who often lose their health insurance along with their jobs. 

“This is a very tough decision but it is imperative that we align our costs with our revenues,” Keeton said.  “I am truly sorry for the people who are affected but we have no other option.”

In addition to the poor economy, UMMC has been contending with the considerable costs of implementing an electronic health record in order to comply with federal regulations. 

Affected employees include administrators, technicians, nurses and support staff. 

“Health care is facing many unknowns at the local, state and federal levels and we have to take precautions to respond to that uncertainty,” Keeton said.  “Over the long term, the need for health care and the health professionals we’re training to provide it will only grow.”