Presley is pulling for Kemper, but admits it’s a huge risk

June 7th, 2010 5 comments

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley spent the better part of 40 minutes addressing the crowd at the Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon.

While Presley didn’t break any new ground in his remarks about Mississippi Power Company’s plans to build a lignite coal-fired electric plant in Kemper County, he did reinforce his position that the plant represents a huge financial risk for MPC’s 190,000 customers in South Mississippi.

Specifically, Presley said the mechanism that allows MPC to charge its ratepayers for the cost of the facility as it’s being built — known as Construction Work in Progress financing — is particularly unnerving for him.

“All risks and all costs will be borne by the ratepayer,” he said.

Also, the technology the plant will use to generate electricity is new and unproven, Presley said, adding that “we can’t get anybody to put a stamp of approval on it, to promise us that it’s going to work.”

Presley went out of his way several times to say that he hoped the plant was successful, but his was the lone dissent when the PSC held a final vote on the issue.

“I hope the majority of the Commission’s crystal ball is a good one,” he said. “We’re spending other people’s money. I hope and pray it works. If (electric) rates go up, we’ve just made it harder for somebody to go into small business.”

The prudent thing to do, Presley said, would have been to delay the project until some of the murkier issues surrounding the technology are resolved. The unpredictability surrounding things like cap and trade and natural gas prices also presents a risk for jumping head-long into the plant immediately.

“This may be a wonderful project, but there’s no harm in waiting,” Presley said.

UPDATE: See video of Presley’s speech here.

Oil and coal start the week

June 7th, 2010 No comments

So it seems as if the cap BP installed over the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico might be working, at least slightly, depending on who you ask.

If the leak was stopped completely right now, the clean-up and aftermath of billions of gallons of oil floating in the Gulf would be astronomical and take many years to complete.

We’re working on a package of stories for next week’s MBJ taking a look at some of the economics of the disaster.

In other energy news, Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley will address the crowd at today’s Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon. Presley cast the sole “no” vote on Mississippi Power Company’s bid to build a lignite coal-fired electric plant in Kemper County. Presley is never shy about giving his opinion, and today should be no different. Magnolia Marketplace will have the particulars of his speech as soon as we can.

Remnants of oil reach shores of Petit Bois Island

June 1st, 2010 No comments

Like we mentioned in our previous blog post, it was very unlikely that Gov. Haley Barbour had any good news to share in his press conference updating the latest with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

And while it’s not the worst news possible, it’s sobering: A yard-wide, two-mile long patch of residue that broke off the main oil slick reached the southern shore of Petit Bois Island early this morning. Petit Bois is the easternmost of Mississippi’s Barrier Islands.

The residue, which has been in the Gulf so long it’s lost most of the properties that at one time made it oil, is not considered toxic. It will take about 24 hours to clean it up.

But it’s still a major cause for concern.

“This is the first significant amount of oil residue, but certainly won’t be the last,” Barbour said.

In response to the find, Barbour said readiness efforts south of the Barrier Islands will be intensified, including adding more ships to the fleet that is searching for sub-surface oil and oil residue. To date, most of the reconnaissance efforts have been done by airplanes.

Barbour did say there is no evidence that any oil or any kind of residue has made its way between the passes in the Barrier Islands, which is good news because that would mean it would have a clean shot at Mississippi beaches.

“There’s no reason to panic  yet, but there is a likelihood that more intrusion is coming to the Barrier Islands,” Barbour said. “If that happens enough, some will make it through the passes in the islands.”

Barbour said it’s way too early to tell what effect the spill will have on the Coast, because it’s uncertain whether BP’s latest attempt to plug it will be successful.

He then spent a good chunk of time complaining about some of the coverage the spill has gotten from the national media, which Barbour said made it sound like “the Mississippi Coast is ankle deep in oil. If tourists were there today, they wouldn’t know anything was happening. We are ready to fight this fight. But we are certainly concerned about what could happen.”

Barbour to update oil spill today at 3

June 1st, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour’s office just issued a press release announcing that he will provide the media with the latest involving the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The timing is important. The past few days have seen yet another attempt by BP to plug the spewing well fail, and the news that a new attempt using another method will be made this week.

So it’s not likely the news from Barbour’s presser will be very good. But we’ll be there with eyes and ears open, and we’ll let you know what happened as soon as it’s over.

GreenTech news leads off the week

May 24th, 2010 2 comments

Since Charles Wang announced plans last fall to build a hybrid vehicle manufacturing facility in Tunica County, not much has happened, and even less has been heard.

The state’s economic development officials, from the county level all the way up to Gov. Haley Barbour, repeat variations of a theme whenever they’re asked about GreenTech, Wang’s company: The state is waiting for the company to raise capital. Until then, there’s just not much to talk about.

Well, now there is something to talk about, and I’m going to be taking a look at it for a story in next week’s MBJ.

GreenTech has acquired EuAuto, a Hong-Kong based company that designs and builds what are called “NEVs,” or neighborhood electric vehicles. Check out the small story we had about it on our website here.

In a statement, GreenTech Chairman Terry McAuliffe, former head of the Democratic National Committee and failed candidate for governor of Virginia, mentions Mississippi — but not Tunica specifically — as one of GreenTech’s target areas for green job creation. But McAuliffe doesn’t provide any insight into how this acquisition will affect the plans for Tunica. He also doesn’t explain what exactly a NEV, which sounds an awful lot like a golf cart, is. We’ll try to find out answers to those questions and more.

Disaster relief fund set up for Yazoo County businesses

April 27th, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace spent most of yesterday in Yazoo City for a story we’re working on for next week’s edition.

It’s not good. You know that by now.

What you don’t know is this: The Yazoo County Chamber of Commerce has set up a fund that will help its members — and even its non-members — get back on their feet. The Chamber’s executive director Henry Cote set up the account today. He said 40 businesses were affected by the tornado; 15 of those were destroyed. They all need help.

On a personal note, if you can, please donate. Yazoo City is near and dear to me. My first job out of Ole Miss was at the Yazoo Herald. The woman I’m marrying on May 8 grew up there. Seeing the destruction yesterday was just about more than I could tolerate.

The disaster relief fund is at the Bank of Yazoo City. Make checks out to the Yazoo County Chamber of Commerce Business Disaster Relief Fund. The bank’s address is 104 North Main Street, Yazoo City, MS 39194.

Tell your friends, and have them tell their friends.

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Familiar name among GreenTech leadership

April 22nd, 2010 No comments

In this week’s edition of the MBJ, we took a look at the latest with GreenTech Automotive, the hybrid vehicle company that supposedly wants to build a $1 billion manufacturing facility in Tunica.

Long story short, not much has happened in the six months since Charles Wang, GreenTech’s founder and CEO, held a bizarre groundbreaking that wasn’t really a groundbreaking. The party line from the Mississippi Development Authority and Gov. Haley Barbour then was the state would sit back and wait for GreenTech to raise capital. That’s still the same.

What is new, however, and didn’t really fit into the print story, was an addition to GreenTech’s leadership team.

Terry McAuliffe, whose time as head of the Democratic National Committee was marked by record fundraising, has taken over role of chairman for the company. Since at least a portion of the capital needed to get the project moving will come from the EB-5 investment program, which offers Visas to foreigners who invest a minimum of $500,000 in U.S. economic development projects, GreenTech will need someone who can separate investors from their money. McAuliffe has shown remarkable skill at just that.

When he chaired the DNC from 2001-2005, McAuliffe led an effort that pulled in over half a billion dollars and hauled the DNC out of debt for the first time in its history. He went on to manage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008 and made an unsuccessful bid for governor of Virginia last year.

Barbour, who will tell anybody willing to listen that his first priority is job creation, clearly  has to be intrigued by GreenTech, though he won’t say anything beyond the standard wait-and-see response he’s given since last fall. Barbour sees the energy sector as one that holds a lot of promise for Mississippi.

So it’s interesting that one of Barbour’s long-time political adversaries is playing a major part in what would be a major energy project for the state.

“Terry’s an old friend of mine,” Barbour said recently when we asked him about McAuliffe’s affiliation. “Our politics are different, but I’m grateful he’s involved. I hope they’ll be able to put together their financing.”

GreenTech has been surrounded by a pile of skepticism (and rightfully so) since news of the company broke last fall. A lot of smart automotive folks think the project is a pipe dream; honestly, it probably is. But McAuliffe has a solid fundraising track record. Still, he needs to pull a lot of money-covered rabbits out of a lot of hats.

Barbour modifies his budget recommendation

April 14th, 2010 11 comments

Just under a week before lawmakers resume the 2010 session, Gov. Haley Barbour has adjusted his executive budget recommendation to reflect the most recent revenue estimate.

The House and Senate have agreed that there will be about $5.4 billion to spread among state agencies for fiscal year 2011, which starts July 1. Barbour based his budget outline on that number.

The big-ticket items aren’t affected much, based on their funding for FY2010.

Education, under Barbour’s plan, would receive $3 million less in FY2011 than it got in FY2010. THe education budget eats up $4.57 billion of the available $5.4 billion.

Barbour does propose taking $30 million from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program to create a fund that would offer bridge loans to school districts that needed them.

“That’s not really fair to the districts that are run well,” Barbour said. The National Board Certified Teachers program, which pays a salary supplement to teachers who meet certain criteria, would remain fully funded.

The news isn’t as good for higher education, which would receive 12 percent less year to year. The community and junior college system (11 percent less) is in a similar situation.

Medicaid’s budget is still somewhat up in the air, as states await Congress’ decision to extend (or not extend) the enhanced FMAP that would pour $187 million into Mississippi’s Medicaid program. That uncertainty is why lawmakers took a recess in the first place.

Corrections would undergo a 4.8 percent cut, and the Department of Public Safety would have its appropriation cut 8 percent. Barbour said the 4 percent cut to the Corrections budget would not result in the release of prisoners who were otherwise not scheduled for parole.

In all, Barbour’s proposal would trim most agencies’ funding levels between 12 and 17 percent, with some cut more and some cut less. Those cut the most include Attorney General Jim Hood’s office (17.4 percent), IHL’s agriculture units (16.9 percent) and Barbour’s office (14.8 percent).

Lawmakers return to Jackson to craft the FY2011 budget April 20.

Musical heritage takes center stage at MEC meeting

April 13th, 2010 1 comment

The Mississippi Economic Council’s annual meeting is this Thursday at the Jackson Convention Complex.

Headlining the event are Gov. Haley Barbour and two Mississippi music legends — Marty Stuart and Dorothy Moore. The meeting will concentrate on the state’s musical heritage, which has become a focal point of the tourism industry with the Mississippi Blues Trail, the B.B. King Museum in Indianola and the recently unveiled Mississippi Country Music Trail.

That Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives will be there is especially exciting for Magnolia Marketplace. Stuart’s early 1990s duets with Travis Tritt have been mainstays on the Official iPod of Magnolia Marketplace. For our money, not many things are finer than spending a spring Friday afternoon commute with the windows down and Marty and Travis blaring on the speakers. This and this are two of the pair’s better efforts, in our humble opinion.

Registration starts Thursday morning at 8:30. Online registration has closed, but you can register on site at the JCC. We’ll be there, and couldn’t be more excited about it.

Bryan provides glimpse of budget battle lines

April 5th, 2010 12 comments

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, was today’s keynote at the monthly luncheon meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps.

His opening remark? “I disagree with Gov. Barbour’s approach to the budget.”

While that isn’t a surprise — Democrats in the Legislature have rarely agreed with the Republican governor about anything — what he said in the ensuing half hour does offer a preview of what the talking points will be once lawmakers reconvene April 20 to craft a budget for fiscal year 2011.

As they have the past few budget-crafting sessions, education and Medicaid will dominate the proceedings.

Bryan rattled off a list of cash reserves — the Rainy Day Fund, Health Care Trust Fund and some discretionary stimulus money at Barbour’s disposal — and said all those reserves totaled up to $750 million.

“With all of that available, we do not need to have the devastating budget cuts,” Bryan said, referring to Barbour’s  cutting roughly $500 million out of the FY2010 budget due to plunging revenue collections.

Education, Bryan said, should receive every penny possible.

“All of us understand that public education is going to be underfunded even in the best of times. (But) there has never been a year that will be as desperate as next year will be for public schools.”

Bryan said the last round of cuts Barbour made, which resulted in Medicaid reimbursements to providers being reduced, was a “completely unnecessary disruption of the system.”

So there’s the preview. The full-length feature film starts in two weeks.

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics, State revenue Tags: