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Greater Picayune Area Chamber of Commerce hosts legislative update

Thursday night’s Legislative Update, hosted by the Greater Picayune Area Chamber of Commerce at Southern Char Steakhouse restaurant in Picayune, included Senators Angela Hill (District 40 - Marion, Pearl River-Republican) and Joseph "Mike" Seymour (District 47 - Jackson, Pearl River, Stone-Republican), Representatives Stacey Wilkes (District 108 - Pearl River- Republican), John Corley (District 106 - Lamar, Pearl River-Republican), and Timmy Ladner (District 93 - Hancock, Pearl River, Stone- Republican).

The event was co-sponsored by Coast Electric Power Association and Mississippi Power.

Senator Hill reminded those in attendance that the $4 million set aside for the correction of the failed Corp of Engineers water diversion project at Wilson Slough near Walkiah Bluff Water Park on the Pearl River is still there and she will continue her commitment to get the failed water diversion project corrected. She noted that Senator Roger Wicker openly stated during a recent visit to Picayune that this was a failed project.

Senator Hill also informed the audience of the lack support for the One Lake bill which basically is construction of another damn on the south of end of Ross Barnett reservoir. This project has strong opposition from her constituents. Environmental studies on impact to the Pearl River basin are still not complete and she will continue to stand up for what is right for the Pearl River and those who use it.

Hill also stated that the passage of Bill 2473- Landlord and Tenant Act, which gives landlords more leverage in evicting tenants that basically will not pay their rent or lease payments, has been well received.

Representative Stacey Wilkes said her first session was like "drinking out of a fire hose.” Wilkes pointed out that she liked the proposed education bill, but feels work still needs to be done with it. She said since the existing Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) formula had not been funded except for two years and it was not going to be funded fully again, she felt looking at alternatives for school funding was a good option. She added that under the current formula, the proposed formula provided for a fairer way of distributing money versus some of the worst performing schools in the state were getting more money. The new bill would use average enrollment looking at three straight times per year looking at those numbers instead of the current average daily attendance. Wilkes also like the that schools could look at the proposed formula and have a ball park idea on what funding they would receive.

In regards to the BP oil spill money distribution, Wilkes said that it appears the discussion seems to be about Hancock, Harrison, Jackson as the focus for the coast from other legislators, but omitting Pearl River, Stone, and George as coastal counties. Those counties (Pearl River, Stone, Geroge) are considered coastal when it comes to insurance premiums for homeowners and just about everything else, but not for BP money.

Senator Mike Seymour pointed out the $50 million in funding of the Local System Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program (LSBP) for road and bridges, which was not funded the previous year and this time around funding was restored for both years.

Seymour stated that “BP money is an upheld battle”, but is hopeful the delegation will be able to secure a good portion of funding for the six coastal counties.

On the education bill, Senator Seymour identified himself as one of the “hateful 8” senators who voted against it. In the long term, Seymour said he believes there will be problems with sending 3 and 4 year olds to school and he also saw a problem with the bill in regards to English learning. He believes that the legislators will soon get the right bill in place.

He stated that Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula is bringing in 4,000 to 5,000 workers from Puerto Rico, which is 18,000 people counting members of households, and that puts pressure on schools in that area for English language learning and local infrastructure. Seymour said these workers cost Mississippi taxpayers over $9 million per year. He also said he was not in favor of how vocational learning funding was to be reduced in regards to the bill.

Representative Timmy Ladner said he supported the education bill and felt it was a starting point and was willing to give it a try because it carried a two-year held harmless clause which allowed for the ability to work things out if needed. Initially, Ladner said he supported the pre-K portion because those students do very well up until the third grade, but studies now show after third grade, there is no impact on their learning, so he is not sure money needs to be spent in that area.

Ladner said he was a co-sponsor on the 15 week abortion bill. He also was pleased that he and Senator Hill played a major role in the $50 million for the LSBP bill.

Ladner said he is sure there will be a special session called in the next 30 days.

Ladner asked “how many in here want your taxes to go up?” because he said “that’s going to be one of the issues.”

Ladner warned that taxes is going to be one of the fights in the upcoming special session. He said he was told today (Thursday) that one of the immediate options for road and bridges is to take money out of the rainy day fund (which he supports), or a tax swap where the 4 percent tax bracket is eliminated and the state raises gas taxes (he is against), or a straight gas tax (he is against) or some BP money is used.

While Ladner said he knows some of the BP money will go to other parts of the state, he is committed to keep as much of those funds in the coastal counties as possible. He believes that money should be spent in revenue producing economic development. Ladner does not want the money spent on one time expenditures. Return on investment is his biggest argument on BP money.

Ladner pointed out that the legislature is “a system that is basically setup to kill bills and it is almost impossible to get something passed.” He said there are 122 people in his chamber and 52 in senate which includes lots of personalities. During his time, he has seen an average of 3,500 to 4,000 bills this year and cast about 867 votes with only around 100 to 200 policy votes per year. He said this is all in all, a good process.

Questions audience from included:

Should the state have a Lotto?

Ladner is in favor. He says that the estimated revenue is around $50 – $80 million Ladner said the Speaker of the House will be releasing his report in the coming weeks. Seymour supports it and Corley says no to the lottery. Wilkes and Hill said they want to see more details on funding. Both said their constituents support it. Wilkes said “if people want to buy one, and it helps the state, we can’t keep people from making a decision for themselves.” She felt it might be better to allow them to spend it on a lottery if that is their choice versus being forced in some other way to pay money to the state.

What can be done about school safety?

The consensus was many teachers legally "carry" today and training more of them was supported by all. Senator Hill pointed out there is a 50 / 50 matching grant for "Cops in Schools" and our local schools take advantage of that program.

What about internet sales tax getting back to the local entities?

Discussion centered around Senator Hill’s efforts to get a bill passed to bring money back to the local economies. The loss of revenue is not well publicized. Many people are not aware that online sales tax, if collected, does not go back to the local municipalities, particularly at the big box stores when a consumer orders an item online and picks that item up locally. Also, it was noted that sales tax collected outside a city (in the county) goes directly to the state and the local area does not receive a portion of that money under the current laws.


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