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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.

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.

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:

District at Eastover hits another snag

April 2nd, 2010 2 comments

We’ve been following the District at Eastover, a mixed-use project Jackson developer Ted Duckworth wants to build on the site of the Old Blind School, for six months now.

To be honest, the project seems cursed. Duckworth and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann reached an impasse late last year in their negotiations to hammer out a lease deal. Then, the Legislature tweaked the legislation governing the parameters of the project to allow the state to sell the land instead of lease it. Duckworth said at the time that he couldn’t pursue the project unless he could buy the land.

So things finally started looking like they were gathering momentum until yesterday afterrnoon, when Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed the bill allowing the sale of the land.

“Without the authority to lease the property, the bill would have essentially required the sale of the property at a time when commercial property prices are at historic lows,” Barbour said in his veto message.

Barbour also wants a provision inserted into the bill that would give the state the option of leasing the land, instead of allowing it only to sell it. He also took issue with the clause that would have given the state the right to buy back the land after 10  years if conditions of the development had not been met. “But the bill did not specify the purchase price,” Barbour said. “It is not clear to me whether the repurchase price would account for any improvements made to the property, which would certainly deter potential buyers and lenders alike from investing and developing this property,” Barbour continued.

On the bright side, Barbour said in his veto message that he would include revamped legislation in a special session, if necessary, when the Legislature returns April 20 to finalize a budget for fiscal year 2011.

When this project first hit our radar last fall, it seemed like a win-win. The Old Blind school sits in the middle of one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the state — Eastover — and is not generating any revenue. Because of that, Magnolia Marketplace was convinced a deal would emerge quickly. But valuable land is still being wasted. Maybe there’s still some political paranoia over the state entering into an agreement — whether it’s a lease or sell — with a private party after the disaster of the beef plant. What is certain is the state has a chance to get a much bigger return off the land than what it’s getting now, which is nothing.

This makes entirely too much sense not to get done.

MC to host automotive symposium

March 31st, 2010 34 comments

Mississippi’s automotive industry has had quite a bit of news recently. Toyota is still navigating the recall mess, and Nissan just affirmed plans to start producing light commercial vehicles at its facility in Canton, starting this fall.

Those two topics — and the future of Toyota’s Blue Springs facility — will likely be front and center April 16 at the Mississippi College School of Law in Downtown Jackson. The school will hold an automotive symposium from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Student Center.

Some familiar names and faces are scheduled to appear. They include Gov. Haley Barbour; David Copenhaver, vice president of Toyota Manufacturing, Mississippi; Jim Barksdale; Paul Johnson, director of the Toyota project at the Mississippi Development Authority; and Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson.

J. Larry Lee, professor of law at MC, will moderate the event.

According to a press release from the school, the symposium and its participants will “assess the risks and opportunities that will define the future of the automotive industry,” a sector government and economic development officials hope will be a significant part of the Mississippi’s economy moving forward.

Mark your calendar. It’s pretty rare to get a group like this in the same room, so there should be some pretty interesting conversation.


Everybody’s working for the weekend

March 26th, 2010 1 comment

Loverboy probably didn’t have the Mississippi Legislature on their minds when the band was performing their ’80s rock anthem, “Working for the Weekend.”

But that’s exactly what lawmakers will spend their weekend doing, now that the House and Senate have agreed to suspend the session until late April. Before that happens, bond bills and other deadline-restricted legislation has to clear, hence the extended work week.

The weekend workout at the Capitol is just one of the two hot political stories that will unfold over the next few days. Gov. Haley Barbour and Attorney General Jim Hood are currently in a stare-down over Barbour’s desire to join the 14 other states in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the healthcare reform legislation President Obama signed earlier this week.

Hood told Barbour yesterday that he has to study the issues of the case a little further before he makes a decision about moving forward — or not moving forward — with the litigation. Barbour has plans to hire outside counsel to do it for him if Hood continues to balk. The two  have tied up in the past, and neither are much of a mind to blink, so this could get really good really fast. A lot of conservative Democrats — including Mississippi’s Travis Childers — voted against the healthcare legislation, so it’s not necessarily a slam dunk that Hood will refuse to participate in the lawsuit. On the other hand, Hood could just be stalling in the name of further study while he weighs his options. Throw in the fact that Hood has already said that Barbour is legally barred from filing the complaint on his own, and there’s a political brawl just waiting to happen. It’ll all shake out soon.

Until then, have a rocking weekend.

Categories: Haley Barbour, Jim Hood, News, Politics Tags:

Legislature to adjourn this week minus a budget? And what about those new Nissans?

March 22nd, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace has been making the rounds of the Capitol sources this morning, and we’ve got an interesting nugget to pass along: There are strong expectations that the Legislature will adjourn this week without a budget.

Reason being: The state still needs more information from the federal government regarding Medicaid, and how the state will have to adjust to the new FMAP rules. So the plan is to send lawmakers home while all that is ironed out. Once it is, the Legislature will gavel back into session and hammer out a spending plan for fiscal year 2011, which starts July 1.

The same thing last session kept lawmakers at the Capitol literally until the 11th hour. A budget deal wasn’t reached until minutes before the new fiscal year started. There was a significant hue and cry earlier this session to make sure that didn’t happen again. A giant leap toward a repeat of last year appears ready to happen, though.

Dan Turner, spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour, would not confirm the rumors but did say such a move “wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.”

So stay tuned on that front.

Shifting gears, Nissan will hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon to provide an update to its $118 million expansion and restructuring that will make way for production of light commercial vehicles. The LCVs are scheduled to hit the market this fall, once the 2011 model year starts. Magnolia Marketplace wrote a story about this very thing two weeks ago, and the company said then that everything was on track. Wednesday should fill in some of the gaps. We’ll have the particulars once it’s over.

The broken budget record is still spinning

March 17th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour announced today that an additional $41 million was disappearing from the state’s budget for fiscal year 2010 because of spiraling state revenue collections.

Since the budget year started last July, $499.1 million has been cut.

“Hopefully we’re making the last cuts of the year,” Barbour said.

The latest round of cuts comes just a few hours after the Joint Legislative Budget Committee lowered  the revenue estimate for FY2010 and FY2011. FY10′s figure was reduced to $4.43 billion, and FY2011 was set at $4.45 billion.

Barbour said he was “skeptical” revenue in FY2011 would reach $4.45 billion. Legislators are crafting that plan now.

Barbour signaled his opposition to any budget that comes to him from the Legislature that would waive the stipulation, commonly called the “2 percent rule,” that sets aside 2 percent of appropriations for the rainy day fund. Legislation that violates the 2 percent rule, Barbour said, can expect his veto.

Aside from the state’s dismal fiscal situation, Barbour touched on a few other topics. Among them:

• The healthcare bill President Obama hopes to pass this week would be “very bad for Mississippi,” he said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to pass the bill without a vote wasn’t very popular with Barbour, either. “That’s mind-boggling to me,” he said.

• He urged the House to pass the reauthorization for the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. If the agency is reauthorized by June 30, those currently drawing unemployment will no longer do so. Barbour dropped strong hints that he would call a special session if lawmakers end the regular session without reauthorizing the agency.

• We asked Barbour what was next for The Aerospace Alliance, a four-state consortium that seeks to expand the Gulf South’s aerospace industry, which suffered its first big loss last week when Northrop Grumman/EADS pulled out of the KC-X Tanker program. He said some pretty interesting things, which we’ll chronicle in a story in next week’s MBJ.

Guns bill dies; competing Eastover legislation still alive

March 3rd, 2010 No comments

Yesterday was a major deadline for legislation at the Capitol, with bills that have already cleared one chamber needing to make it out of committee or die until next session.

Senate Bill 2153, which would have allowed concealed weapon permit holders to carry their firearms into public parks, unsecured public buildings and bars and restaurants — provided owners chose to allow it — died in the House Judiciary B Committee.

Magnolia Marketplace has a story about the legislation in this week’s MBJ. The restaurant owners we talked to were wary, to say the least, of allowing handguns into their buildings. Andy Wilson, who has Underground 119 in Downtown Jackson, was the most adamant, saying the legislation reminded him of the Wild West days when cowboys packed their pistols in swinging-door saloons.

Although the issue is dead for this session, look for it to appear next year. The National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful lobbies in politics, has made this legislation a priority.

The two bills that deal with the Old Blind School property, which Jackson developer Ted Duckworth wants to turn into a mixed-use development, are still active. SB 3097, authored by Jack Gordon, would authorize the state to lease the property for development. Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, has authored House Bill 637, which calls for the state to sell the property to a developer with conditions attached that would allow the state to take it back if those conditions were not met.

We had a story about the competing pieces of legislation about a month ago, in which we learned that Duckworth would most likely pull out of the project if the state insisted on leasing the property instead of selling it. With both the lease and sell bills still alive, Duckworth’s future involvement would seem to be still very much up in the air.

Categories: Economic development, News, Politics Tags: