MEC Transformation Tour comes to Jackson

December 2nd, 2009 No comments

The Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Transformation Tour stopped in Jackson this morning at the Hilton on County Line Road.

A few hundred folks crammed into one of the hotel’s ballrooms to hear a handful of elected officials offer their take on the upcoming legislative session.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant touted the Commission for a New Mississippi’s recommendations to overhaul the state’s budgeting system. Bryant unveiled the plan Monday, and used the same arguments today as he did then.

Bryant said the state desperately needs to develop a strategic plan and tie the allocation of state funds to agencies to the components of that plan. The performance-based budgeting concept is a big part of the Commission’s goals.

“If nobody’s monitoring your level of success you’re probably not going to get much accomplished,” Bryant said. Magnolia Marketplace is writing a story for next week’s MBJ that will take a long look at the Commission’s report and try to gauge how it will play when lawmakers convene in January. Here’s a hint: Some parts of the plan stand a better chance at becoming reality than others.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann touted the new Blue Book and warned against the inclination some legislators may have for diverting 16th Section revenue from school districts to the general fund. Hosemann’s legislative agenda includes reforming the state’s LLC, trademark, tradename and uniform commercial code laws.

Institutions of Higher Learning Commissioner Dr. Hank Bounds and State Board of Community and Junior Colleges Executive Director Dr. Eric Clark both said that their respective levels of education were Mississippi’s key to properly emerging from the recession. New State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tom Burnham, who just started his second stint in that seat, echoed Bounds and Clark.

The Transformation Tour started Nov. 9 in Greenwood and will end Dec. 10 in Gulfport. In all, 12 cities across the state will host or have already hosted the event.

Northrop Grumman/EADS drops a bombshell in tanker bid

December 1st, 2009 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace was about to call it a day when a Google alert caught our attention.

Several national media outlets are reporting that Northrop Grumman/EADS is threatening to pull out of the competition with Boeing for a $35 billion contract to supply the U.S. Air Force with a new fleet of refueling tanker planes.

In a letter with today’s date on it, Northrop Grumman President and COO Wes Bush told the Pentagon that the company believes the request for proposals basically rigs the competition to the point that it would be almost impossible for Boeing not to win it.

Obviously, if today’s threat became reality, it would be met with a healthy amount of disappointment in the Gulf Coast’s aerospace corridor, and more specifically, Jackson County in Mississippi, where Northrop Grumman’s shipbuilding division is located.

The leaders of the multi-state aerospace alliance that was launched recently, Gov. Haley Barbour among them, made it plain that their first priority was helping Northrop Grumman/EADS win the tanker contract.

Details of Bush’s letter can be read here.

Revenue down — again — in November

December 1st, 2009 No comments

For the 15th straight month, Mississippi’s tax revenue collections have been less than what estimates said they would be.

Numbers released today by the Mississippi State Tax Commission show that November’s revenue is 6.88 percent, or $24.8 million, below projections. For the first five months of FY2010, which started July 1, revenue is $136.6 million short of where the state’s financial experts thought it would be. That’s a 7.38 percent shortfall. If that pace holds, the total deficit for FY2010 will come in a shade under $330 million.

Gov. Haley Barbour has already cut $172 million out of this year’s budget. More cuts are a guarantee. In a statement released this afternoon, Barbour called them “unavoidable” and reiterated that the budget for FY2011 will look nothing like budgets of fiscal years past.

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

The Blue Book is here!

December 1st, 2009 No comments

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann just wrapped a press conference at his Capitol office, in which he unveiled the 2008-2012 Official and Statistical Register of the State of Mississippi, or the Blue Book.

The 768 pages provide almost everything there is to know about counties, municipalities, state agencies, boards and commissions. For the first time, this edition of the Blue Book has municipal election returns.

Hosemann said he wanted this version, the first printed since he took office, to provide a glimpse of where the state is headed, and not just a historical rundown of where the state has been.

“You see a very different Mississippi than 10 or 20 years ago,” Hosemann said, noting how the state’s economy has expanding beyond its agrarian heritage to include things like the Nissan plant in Canton and the Severstal steel mill in Columbus. Data pertaining to Mississippi’s workforce and its largest employers is included.

Hederman Brothers Printing of Ridgeland printed the Blue Book, at a cost to the state of just under $10 per copy. Libraries, schools and public officials will be among those who receive one of the 11,000 copies printed.

The Blue Book is available to the general public on Hosemann’s Web site. Hard copies are free and can be had by calling (601) 359-6344 or by visiting the Secretary of State’s office at 700 North Street in Jackson.

Categories: Delbert Hosemann, Elections, News Tags:

Opinions emerge on consolidation, university mergers

November 16th, 2009 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour unveiled his budget recommendation this afternoon.

As expected, Barbour’s proposal calls for a major restructuring of the state’s education system.

The state’s public school districts should be reduced from 152 to 100, Barbour said, in an effort to save money as state revenue continues to plunge.

The reforms reach into higher education, too. Barbour’s budget plan proposes that the Mississippi University for Women merge with Mississippi State University, and for Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University to merge with Jackson State. In each instance, the campuses of the schools eliminated would remain open, but carry a new name.

The proposals come on the heels of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s meeting last week, in which lawmakers learned revenue in fiscal year 2011, which starts next July 1, would come in $715 million under appropriations for FY10. The predicted shortfall for FY12 is over $1 billion.

“These are major changes for a significant new direction,” Barbour said.

School district consolidation and university mergers have historically been dead on arrival when the ideas reached the Capitol. Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs and chair of the House Universities and Colleges Committee, said in a statement that merging universities is not the solution to the state’s revenue problems.

“I would disagree with the governor or anyone who would suggest that closing universities or reducing access and opportunity to a variety of educational course options is the way to go,” he said. “While this may appear to some to be the answer, it is my view that this method would serve as only a short term approach and would do considerable damage to the state’s future long term economic viability.”

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, was the first to publicly broach the idea combining educational entities last month at the Mississippi Economic Council’s Hobnob.

“The governor has presented a very bold budget that has a lot of merit and one that is a work in progress,” Flaggs said this afternoon. Flaggs serves on the JLBC, which will present its own budget recommendation Dec. 2. Flaggs said he would visit, over the next month, the president of each university affected in Barbour’s plan before making a decision on whether he would support it.

“I’m open for discussion. We’re at a crossroads. We’ve got to make these tough decisions.”

Barbour speaks from across the world

November 10th, 2009 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour just finished a conference call with reporters, but the big news is where he was sitting while he was speaking: Baghdad.

Barbour was in Iraq visiting soldiers in the Mississippi National Guard’s 155th Armored Brigade as part of a Veterans Day excursion. He couldn’t divulge many details of his trip, per Defense Department Policy.

Anyway, Barbour’s executive budget recommendation is due to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee Monday, the particulars of which dominated much of the 25-minute chat.

Barbour said last week that an additional $200 million in cuts would be necessary to FY10’s budget because of declining tax revenue. Barbour trimmed $172 million — mostly from education — from the budget in September.

“This budget recommendation will be anything but business as usual,” said Barbour, reciting a line he has used often when describing the state’s fiscal situation. “It will include some dramatic ways to restructure (state agencies and government) but it will not be Draconian. We’re not gutting anything. We are going to push very hard to be sure we’re spending on our priorities.”

Barbour did not provide any specifics, but did offer that some of the things he will propose will not save a huge amount of money until FY12, which starts July 1, 2011.

The state’s revenue estimating group told members of the JLBC last week that FY10’s total shortfall will reach $370 million, which is about $20 million more than Barbour’s high-end estimate he made in announcing the September cuts.

Barbour predicted, based on information from the revenue estimating group, that FY11’s total shortfall could exceed $700 million, which is why his budget recommendation due Monday will be a financial shell of those he’s presented in the past, he said. Contributing mightily to that deficit is the state’s Medicaid program, which will lose $200 million starting Jan. 1, 2011, in a combination of decreased federal match money and increased costs. Several hundred million dollars’ worth of stimulus money will also be gone by then.

“We may have to find another $500 million to $600 million in 2012 over and above what we have to find for this year and for FY11,” Barbour said. “We’re going to have to make more big savings (in FY12) even if revenue keeps dropping,” Barbour said.

On a lighter note, Barbour spoke at length about some of the soldiers he’s rubbed elbows with since he arrived in Iraq earlier this week after visiting with wounded Mississippi soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital Monday in Washington.

“This warrior mentality that they have is so strong and when one compares it to the liberal media elite or some people in Washington, it has a very powerful effect on me to see these very brave, very strong, very good people,” he said.

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

Franks responds to Simpson Seven

November 5th, 2009 No comments

Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Jamie Franks was unavailable for comment when my story about the seven Simpson County officials who joined the GOP today was ready to post on the MBJ’s Web site. There’s a good reason he didn’t answer his cell phone. Franks, an attorney, is in the middle of a trial up in Batesville. He was kind enough to call back just a few minutes ago.

Franks didn’t know about the Simpson Seven until we told him. As you might imagine, he wasn’t thrilled with the news.

“When you stand for election for one party, you should remain that until the end of the term or resign and have to run for election immediately,” said Franks, who added that concept should apply to Democrats flipping to the GOP and vice versa.

Franks, when he was in the Legislature, said he introduced legislation that would ban this sort of thing but it did not advance past the House floor.

“I think it’s wrong to hold yourself out as one thing and then switch,” he said.

The Democratic Party has room for conservatives, Franks said, refuting the often-recited line of former Democrats who claim, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me.” At every party-jumping event that features Democrats joining Republicans Magnolia Marketplace has ever been to, somebody has uttered that phrase, or something similar. Sen. Nolan Mettetal of Sardis said it last year at the Panola County Legislative Reception. The head of the Simpson County Republican Party, Jan Magee, said it again today.

Franks said that if every pro-life Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives were to become Republican, Democrats would no longer hold a majority in that body.

“The Democratic Party is the party of the big tent,” Franks said. “Not every Democrat believes in abortion, gay marriage or taking everybody’s guns.”

Categories: Elections, Jamie Franks, Politics Tags:

Party switching, number crunching (and special sessioning?)

November 5th, 2009 No comments

After the press conference where seven Simpson County politicos announced that they preferred Elephants to Donkeys, Magnolia Marketplace and a few other media outlets got a few minutes to ask Gov. Haley Barbour some questions.

I’m sure he was thrilled.

Anyway, Barbour reported nothing new about the will-there-or-won’t-there surrounding the special session to deal with incentives for an advanced manufacturing company, presumably a German maker of steel pipes, to build a $300 million facility and create 500 jobs in the Delta, presumably Tunica County.

Barbour did not reveal the name of the company. He did say that it was dealing with “an external issue” that was not related to the agreement between it and the state. He did not elaborate.

“They’re making progress,” he said of the company. “We’re not going to call a special session until that’s fully resolved. I don’t see any problem. I don’t think it’s going to be very long.”

With October’s revenue almost 7 percent below estimates, Barbour will be forced to cut the FY10 budget a second time pretty soon. He is meeting with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee this afternoon, where the JLBC is expected to present a revenue estimate for the remainder of FY10, which ends June 30, 2010.

“There’s no question in my mind that we’re going to need at least $200 million more in reductions in spending this fiscal year,” said Barbour, who cut $172 million from the budget in September.

Making that an even more difficult task, Barbour said, is the state law that says no agency’s budget can be cut more than 5 percent until every agency has been cut at least 5 percent.

“We will continue to have to make significant cuts.”

Budgets notwithstanding, this has been a pretty good week for Barbour. He’s the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and the GOP won two pretty important gubernatorial races Tuesday in Virginia and New Jersey. President Barack Obama carried both those states – New Jersey by 15 percent – last November.

Barbour compared Tuesday’s elections to those of 1993, in which New Jersey and Virginia both elected GOP chief executives. Those races, Barbour said today, served as a springboard to the 1994 Contract with America, in which Republicans took control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years. Barbour was chairman of the Republican National Committee at the time.

“In the same way, I believe these elections the day before yesterday, where Republicans won and won handily, shows that the American people are not happy with the policies that (Obama’s) administration is pursuing,” Barbour said. “They think there’s too much spending and too much debt.”

Speaking of presidential politics, a reporter from a Jackson television station asked Barbour if he harbored any plans to run for president in 2012, a question Barbour gets often. He responded that he was focused on next year’s Congressional races, in which Republicans will try to party like it’s 1994.

When the reporter pressed him on his gameplan as far as running for the White House, Barbour said he “had no plan to,” which is a long way from slamming the door on the possibility.

State GOP Chairman confirms seven Democrats switching parties

November 3rd, 2009 No comments

Statewide radio host Paul Gallo has mentioned once or twice this week that there was a possibility a handful of Mississippi Democrats were on the verge of becoming Republicans.

Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Brad White just confirmed it to Magnolia Marketplace. Seven current Democrats, White said, will be former Democrats Thursday morning. White did not provide names.

“Some are from multi-county districts and some are from the local level,” White said.

A press conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at the Mississippi GOP headquarters, located at the corner of Yazoo and Congress streets in Jackson.

Magnolia Marketplace will be there and will have the particulars as soon as it’s over.

Categories: News, Politics Tags:

Special session may be off for good

November 3rd, 2009 No comments

Rumors are swirling this morning that the German manufacturer of steel pipes that wants to build a $300 million facility, and create 500 jobs, in Tunica is having trouble securing financing.

Separate sources in the House and Senate have said it was their understanding that there would be no special session any time soon, if ever, to deal with incentives for the company, whose name has not been officially released by Gov. Haley Barbour’s office. Barbour announced two weeks ago that there would be a special session last week but those plans were put on hold. Barbour said in announcing the postponement that the hang-up was not related to the deal between the company and the state.

Barbour spokesman Dan Turner had no comment this morning.