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Nissan to release expansion plans Tuesday

July 29th, 2013 No comments

Nissan will unveil expansion plans at its Canton manufacturing facility Tuesday morning.

The company has spent most of 2013 celebrating 10 years of production in Mississippi. A company press release did not offer details of what sort of expansion Canton will undergo.

Last legislative session, lawmakers approved and Gov. Phil Bryant signed $100 million worth of bonds for the facility. The Madison County Economic Development Authority will issue the bonds; debt service will be paid by lease revenue Nissan will generate from suppliers in two new buildings planned for the complex.

Expansion plans will be detailed Tuesday at 10 a.m. during a ceremony at the Nissan complex off I-55.

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Bryant signing tourism consolidation bill Tuesday

April 16th, 2013 No comments

Tuesday morning, Gov. Phil Bryant will sign legislation that will rename the Harrison County Tourism Commission the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bryant will sign the bill, which takes effect July 1, at 10:30 at the Mississippi Coast Convention Center in Biloxi.

The new regional bureau will be charged with promoting tourism across the Coast, and is designed to combine the efforts of several agencies in the three coastal counties. Members of the regional bureau will be appointed by supervisors from Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties. Each county will split the new agency’s funding. Harrison County supervisors will appoint nine members; Jackson and Hancock county supervisors will appoint three each. Harrison county supervisors will set and approve the new agency’s budget.

The bill authorizes a nonvoting advisory board. It will include representatives from several sectors of the hospitality industry, including the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association, the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association and the Mississippi Casino Operators Association.

A handful of tourism agencies on the Coast have consolidated within the past few years to form a single entity that promotes tourism in the area. Consolidation of similar agencies and those charged with promoting general economic development has been a trend designed to streamline operations and save money.

Last year marked the Coast’s strongest tourism season since the 2010 BP oil spill that stretched into summer, driving down the number of visitors and related revenue. The oil spill came right after the recession had cut into Coast tourism, which serves as one of the area’s primary economic drivers.

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Port revitalization to reach milestone Wednesday

April 9th, 2013 No comments

Gov. Phil Bryant will be on hand Wednesday as the last truckload of “fill” is dumped on the west pier of the Port of Gulfport.

The 11 a.m. ceremony will mark a major milestone for the 80-acre fill project that’s part of the port’s overall restoration after Hurricane Katrina.

The project originally began as a much larger venture, with a $500 million price tag and designs on attracting megaships bound for Asia.

Those plans changed last summer, when port commissioners revealed that wouldn’t be possible once the Panama Canal is widened.

The project’s completion date, which to go with filling the west pier will include deepening the port’s channel to 45 feet, is scheduled for 2015.

The project has been a source of controversy since its inception. Former Gov. Haley Barbour was criticized by housing advocates and community activists for diverting Katrina-related recovery money from housing efforts to the port. Officials eventually diverted about $160 million originally meant for the port to housing programs. Federal guidelines attached to Katrina money allowed some funds earmarked for things like housing to be used for economic development.

As it is, the port’s job creation estimates hover around 1,300, to go with the 1,200 already employed there. Officials still hope it can attract as many large ships carrying textiles, automotive parts and fruit to Europe and Asia.

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Latest deadline has mixed results for business legislation

March 14th, 2013 No comments

Wednesday’s deadline for floor action on bills that originated in the opposite chamber brought mixed results for legislation aimed at the state’s business community.

Of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s legislative agenda, only a bill that would provide a 25 percent rebate to businesses that contract with one of the state’s colleges or universities for qualified research remains alive. The Strengthening Mississippi Academic Research Through (SMART) Business Act would cap rebates at $1 million per business and $5 million per fiscal year. It died in the 2012 session. It has been sent to conference.

Other bills Hosemann supported – tax credits for businesses relocating their headquarters to Mississippi, expanding existing headquarters  and an employee pass-through tax credit – all died for the second consecutive session.

Already signed by Gov. Phil Bryant into law is legislation that that will provide $8 million in additional money to the Workforce Enhancement Training Fund. The WET fund is used by community colleges to provide training for jobs and skills that employers have identified as being in demand.

The money will be generated by a one-year decrease in the unemployment tax businesses pay and a corresponding increase in the WET fund tax. The net effect on employers who pay each tax will be neutral. Also contributing to the additional job training money is $14 million in fraudulently obtained unemployment benefits the Mississippi Department of Employment Security has gotten back.

Bryant signed the bill Wednesday. The measure was supported by the Mississippi chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Legislation directed at the Mississippi Development Authority had mixed results. A bill requiring the agency to issue an annual report of the tax breaks and other incentives it provides to businesses died. Executive director Brent Christensen has said that’s something the agency plans to do anyway, starting with the one issued late last year. Also dead is a bill that would have authorized the MDA to periodically hire consultants to assess the incentives it issues.

Still alive is a measure that would divert money from an MDA fund established to lure Toyota to a workforce training grant fund.

The next hurdle still-active bills face is a conference report deadline on April 4.

Federal appeals court rules state’s tort cap does not violate separation of powers

February 27th, 2013 1 comment

Wednesday morning, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Mississippi’s $1 million cap on non-economic damages arising out of civil litigation does not violate the state’s constitutional separation of powers.

The question arose out of a personal injury case in federal court in Aberdeen. Plaintiff Lisa Learmonth was involved in a wreck with a Sears van and was awarded $4 million by a jury. The award was modified by the presiding judge to conform with the cap. Learmonth’s attorneys appealed that modification to the Fifth Circuit, arguing that the cap established by the Legislature infringed on a jury’s right to decide how much should be awarded to whom. The Fifth Circuit kicked the issue in 2011 to the Mississippi Supreme court, asking justices to decide if the cap was constitutional.

The state court last August passed on deciding the issue, saying in a 7-1 decision that doing so would be to engage in speculation. The Fifth Circuit asked for briefs on the issue in October, which led to Wednesday’s ruling.

The cap was the centerpiece of tort reform legislation passed in 2004. Business groups, their membership and their political allies said the cap would make sure liability insurance premiums for businesses would remain predictable and not be cost-prohibitive.

The same groups said the cap would repair Mississippi’s reputation as a “judicial hell hole,” in which certain jurisdictions had become known for producing large jury verdicts against defendants in civil cases.

“Today is a good day for businesses across Mississippi because the Fifth Circuit has upheld an important protection against unpredictable and excessive damage awards,” Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement. “The Fifth Circuit Court’s ruling reinforces the rule of law and bolsters our continued push to make Mississippi the most job-friendly state in the nation.”

While the ruling seems to slam the door on overturning the cap based on the separation of powers, it might have left it open to a challenge based on another constitutional argument.

Toward the end of the 25-page opinion, Judge Carolyn Dineen King writes that Learmonth’s attorneys “overlooked the possibility that, at least under some circumstances, the Mississippi Constitution’s Due Process Clause or Remedy Clause might impose substantive constraints on the legislature’s authority to cap compensatory damages.”

Due process prevents the taking of life, liberty or property without due process of law. The Remedy Clause contains two guarantees: that courts be open, and that those injured have a remedy by due course of the law.

To read the entire opinion, click here.

Business officials push for RESTORE Act funds to pay for ecosystem restoration

February 19th, 2013 No comments

A group of 120 business leaders have signed a letter urging that money allocated under the RESTORE Act be used to rebuild the Gulf Coast’s ecosystem after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The RESTORE Act became law last summer. It directs 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines BP and other companies connected to the spill will pay to states that border the Gulf of Mexico.

Total payments are expected to be more than $20 billion, and are intended to fund efforts to restore the Gulf’s ecosystem. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which includes governors of Gulf States, will allocate the money.

The business leaders’ letter – sent Tuesday to the five Gulf states governors, including Gov. Phil Bryant – says the money should be used for environmental restoration, not diverted elsewhere.

“Right now, there is a remarkable opportunity to restore the Gulf, to strengthen its traditional industries, spur innovation, accelerate emerging markets centered on environmental restoration and promote new prosperity,” says a press release accompanying the letter. It cites a 2010 study done by economic consultants in Georgia that says $20 billion in RESTORE Act money could create almost 57,000 jobs in the Gulf region.

“These restoration projects create a demand for work from a wide variety of companies in the engineering, construction, transportation and manufacturing sectors,” Thomas Matthews, of Pass Christian-based marine specialty construction firm Matthews Brothers  Inc., said in the release. “As one of the first firms to win a contract on a post-BP spill environmental restoration project in Mississippi, I have witnessed firsthand that investments in coastal restoration can mean jobs for coastal workers and economic growth for local businesses and communities.”

The 2010 spill sent over the course of three months almost 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, which breaks down to about 210 million gallons. The worst damage in Mississippi came around the Barrier Islands that sit a few miles south of the shore. It’s considered the worst manmade environmental disaster in history, and came less than five years after Hurricane Katrina, considered the worst natural disaster ever.

Kemper rate mitigation bill similar to 2009 Georgia law

January 31st, 2013 No comments

Kemper-Update-Logo_rgb-300x244Four years ago, lawmakers in Georgia’s General Assembly approved a bill designed to lessen the rate shock for Georgia Power Co. customers related to the utility’s construction of nuclear power units.

Mississippi lawmakers are considering a similar bill for Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County coal plant.

The Georgia legislation, which former Gov. Sonny Perdue signed in 2009, allowed Georgia Power  – which, like Mississippi Power, is a subsidiary of Southern Co. – to pass to ratepayers financing costs incurred to build two additional nuclear units at an existing generation plant in the southeastern part of the state.

Starting in January 2011, the law gave Georgia Power five years after the Georgia Public Service Commission approved the project to recover the costs. The law established the financing recovery schedule  separately from the rate base that collected construction work in progress funds. In Georgia, the recovery of CWIP is mandatory.

Georgia Co. officials said while the bill made its way through the statehouse in 2009 that paying financing costs for the $14 billion project as they were accrued would save customers in the long run. The two new units are scheduled to begin producing electricity by 2017, according to recent company projections.

A couple things separate the Georgia law and the proposed legislation here. Georgia’s rate mitigation statute established a five-year recovery window. The Mississippi plan creates a 10-year window, and prohibits the utility from filing to activate the plan until 12 months prior to the calendar year in which the qualifying facility is scheduled to begin operation.

The Kemper plant is supposed to come online in May 2014. That means Mississippi Power can request the plan if and when the law clears the Capitol and is signed by Gov. Phil Bryant.

The Georgia law established a rate schedule specifically for the recovery of financing costs, since the recovery of CWIP was already mandated. The legislation that has cleared the Mississippi Senate’s Energy and Finance committees does not restrict CWIP or financing costs from being included.

The hard cap on the Kemper costs Mississippi Power can recover through ratemaking proceedings at the Mississippi Public Service Commmission was lowered last week from $2.88 billion to $2.4 billion, as part of a rate settlement between commissioners and the utility. A bill that would permit Mississippi Power to issue bonds for overruns – up to $1 billion – sits in the Senate Energy and Finance committees.

Data: Raising accelerated tax threshold would have little financial impact on state

January 29th, 2013 No comments

The latest issue of the Mississippi Business Journal has a story about the push to raise the liability threshold that requires small businesses to participate in the accelerated tax payment system.

Simply put, small businesses with a monthly average of at least $20,000 in tax liability have to pay a portion of June sales and use taxes no later than June 25.

Normally, those tax payments are due on the 20th of the next month. For example, April taxes are due no later than May 20. The accelerated system forces small businesses that qualify to pay two months’ (May and June) worth of taxes on one day.

Ron Aldridge of the Mississippi NFIB, which is advocating the proposal to raise the threshold from $20,000 to $50,000, provided some data from the Department of Revenue that sheds light on how many small businesses are triggered by the $20,000 threshold, and how many would be triggered by the $50,000 threshold. The data arrived after the MBJ’s press deadline last week, and did not make the print version.

As of Oct. 26 2012, 2,623 businesses qualified under the $20,000 threshold, and paid $157.9 million in sales and use taxes. Of those businesses, 853 would still have to pay accelerated sales and use taxes if the threshold increased to $50,000. Of the $157.9 million total, those businesses paid $123.1 million, about 67 percent of the total.

The NFIB, in a press release that accompanied the data, said the state having to wait a month for $34.8 million is not enough to justify keeping the threshold at $20,000.

Four bills that address the issue have been filed and sit either in the House Ways and Means Committee or in the Senate Finance Committee. Gov. Phil Bryant made raising the threshold part of his executive budget recommendation late last year, so it’s likely at least one will be sent to the floor for debate before the first committee deadline Feb. 5.

Initiative seeks to aid veterans in finding jobs

January 16th, 2013 No comments

Gov. Phil Bryant proclaimed on Wednesday that 2013 was the year Mississippi employers should do everything they can to hire veterans.

As part of the announcement at the Capitol, Bryant and officials from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security said they would back legislation that seeks to make it easier for veterans and their spouses to get jobs.

The bill, which will be filed by Rep. Wanda Jennings, R-Southaven, would require state agencies to grant temporary occupational licenses to qualified veterans and their spouses. For example, if someone is transferred to Naval Air Station Meridian, and their spouse is a nurse licensed in another state, the bill would expedite the process of getting a license to practice nursing in Mississippi.

It would also expedite the licensing process for veterans whose civilian career will mirror their jobs in the military.

The initiative will include three job fairs, the first of which is in March at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson.

MDES executive director Mark Henry said Mississippi will have in the next five years 28,000 veterans who have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001. The unemployment rate for veterans in the state, Henry said, is 10.8 percent, higher than the 7.8 percent overall rate.

On Wednesday, representatives from Ingalls Shipbuilding, Entergy Mississippi and Brown Bottling signed a pledge to hire Mississippi veterans. A similar movement is going on nationally, led by Walmart’s promise this week to hire 100,000 veterans in the next five years.

The job fairs associated with the Mississippi initiative are March 8 at the Ag Museum, April 9 at the Biloxi Civic Center and June 27 at Itawamba Community College’s Belden Center in Belden.

Video of Wednesday’s press conference, courtesy of the MBJ‘s Stephen McDill, is here.

Fifth Circuit: Federal anti-spoofing measure preempts Mississippi law

December 28th, 2012 No comments

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in early December that a Mississippi law enacted in 2010 that prohibits “spoofing” is preempted by federal law.

In 2010, Mississippi lawmakers passed and former Gov. Haley Barbour signed the Caller ID Spoofing Act, which made it a misdemeanor to spoof – or falsify – the telephone number of a caller. Spoofing is common among telemarketers.

A federal law also enacted in 2010 made it illegal to spoof with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value.

New Jersey-based telecom TelTech Systems, which provides third-party spoofing services, sued the state, alleging that the Mississippi law did not allow non-harmful spoofing, something the federal law was designed to protect. A district court judge ruled in favor of TelTech, and the defendants – which included Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood – appealed to the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

In its ruling, a panel of three Fifth Circuit judges said that the legislative notes for the 2010 federal law revealed that “Congress intended to balance carefully the drawbacks of malicious caller ID spoofing against the benefits provided by legitimate caller ID spoofing.”

Spoofing technology has grown in popularity with the rise in smartphone use. Many apps and websites allow users to spoof their information, and even offer technology that can disguise a caller’s voice.

Instances where spoofing is considered legitimate include use by those who work from home, and want to give the impression they’re calling from an office, or professionals who regularly use their cell phones to conduct business but do not want to give out that number.