/In special session, some districts got earmarks – some didn’t; 19 rural counties left out

In special session, some districts got earmarks – some didn’t; 19 rural counties left out

Sanford, who was serving his first term as Mississippi House of Representatives member, looked deeper to discover that he wasn’t the only one: 19 of Mississippi’s 82 counties did not receive any special legislative money. Sanford made a pink slip and signaled to Speaker Philip Gunn that he would introduce an amendment to the bill during floor debate. Soon after introducing the amendment to give the remaining 19 counties funding from the large pot of money, Rep. Robert Foster (R-Hernando) made a motion to end it. Sanford was furious. Sanford was furious. Foster said that it makes no sense and was not the reason any of us were sent here.” “I’d be willing and able to help you if your county (DeSoto), didn’t have any. You have something, fortunately. You have many Republican primary voters within your county. The Coast is also a good choice. Fortunately, Madison and Rankin counties are also affected. This is the time to spread it around. All of us should be given a present if we are going to pass this.” Sanford’s passionate plea was rejected. Mississippi Today’s analysis of 128 projects earmarked for August special session approval revealed no pattern in the selection process. The legislative leaders responsible for the selection process did not provide any explanation. This left lawmakers wondering if backroom deals were involved. Projects ranged from $8M for new roads in Madison and Rankin, in suburban Jackson to $500,000 for street repair in various towns to repairing a few of the more than 500 county bridges throughout the state. A few private ventures were also funded by state funding, including the restoration of an Amory church for community use as well as private Tougaloo College in Jackson. “All the projects that were funded in the state’s regions were determined after months and months of negotiation and discussion by senators, representatives, members of the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee as well as the House Appropriations Committee and the House Speaker and Lt. Governor. Laura Hipp spokeswoman for Reeves. Meg Annison (a Gunn spokeswoman) was asked how leaders made decisions about which projects they would include. She said that each member requested this information from the House leaders. In this case, Trey Lamar (R-Senatobia) was the House member responsible for the legislation. Lamar, vice chairman of Ways and Means Committee and part Gunn’s close circle, was awarded four projects totaling $4million for his district. Gov. Phil Bryant’s Office did not respond to questions about Phil Bryant’s role in selecting earmarks. The 19 counties without earmarks were all rural. Rep. Lester “Bubba” Carpenter (R-Burnsville) said that he was disappointed his home county of Tishomingo didn’t receive a project but that he was happy that funds were available for sewer improvements in Farmington, Alcorn County. Carpenter stated that all counties should have been eligible for a project. Carpenter said, “I was happy about Farmington, but it wasn’t great that 19 counties didn’t get a project.” He stated that he hopes these counties will be prioritized in the next legislative session. Sanford is also the representative of three counties that did not receive any projects, namely Covington Simpson and Jeff Davis. It is not unusual for the Mississippi Legislature provide state funding for local projects. The number of special projects that were approved by the special session was extraordinary. The state usually pays off the bonds over a 20-year period to fund the projects. The Legislature approved $50 million worth of bonds to finance a portion, and used $61 millions in reserves to fund the rest. The legislation doesn’t specify which projects are funded by bond debt and which through cash reserves. Cash reserves were obtained from a federal court settlement by Attorney General Jim Hood in litigation against BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent catastrophic oil spillage. In the next 15 years, the state will receive an additional $600million ($40 million each year). The legislation passed in special session will see $30 million each year be allocated to projects in six of the most southern counties. $10 million will go to projects throughout the rest of the state. The Legislature will decide which projects will be funded. This will give the House and Senate another source of revenue to pay earmarks. Some lawmakers, like Rep. William Tracy Arnold (R-Booneville), argued that the funds should be split equally between all counties based upon criteria such as population and that local officials should decide how the funds are expended. Legislative leaders sometimes have the option of offering earmarks to keep their members on track or to win votes for controversial pieces. The rumors swirled during the special session that earmarks might be available to legislators who voted in favor of a lottery, which was supported by the governor. Although no state legislator admitted to making any deals to vote in the lottery, several state lawmakers who changed their no votes to support the lottery received earmarked projects. Doug McLeod (R-Lucedale) was initially a no vote for the lottery, but he later changed his vote and voted yes to help secure its passage. McLeod’s Lucedale district was awarded $350,000 to repair and repaving the intersection of Scott Road (state Highway 26). McLeod also owns a tire shop located on Highway 26 approximately one mile northeast of the intersection. McLeod stated that he wasn’t going “to jeopardize our roads funding, something so essential” when questioned by Mississippi Today about his decision to change his mind. “Seven of the ten people in my district support a lottery.” Although I don’t generally oppose a lottery, some things in the bill made me uncomfortable. Rep. Jody Stevenson, R-Ripley was initially opposed to the lottery but he voted for it. He also received earmarks for Tippah. Sources claim that Sen. Rita Potts Park (R-Corinth), who is also a Tippah representative, was instrumental in determining some of the Tippah’s earmarks. Steverson stated that Ripley had been scheduled to receive funds, $500,000 for street repairs, before the lottery vote. Many lawmakers who voted against it all the time still received earmarks to their districts. Rep. Nick Bain (D-Corinth), who voted against it (as did Parks, the Senate) can proudly boast that they raised funds for Corinth. Senator Hob Bryan (D-Amory), who was also a lottery opponent, is frequently one of the most vocal critics of many Lt. Governors. Reeves’ policies were successful in securing funds to renovate the First Christian Church of Amory for community use. Mississippi Today reported that Gov. Phil Bryant stated that he wouldn’t allow the BP legislation to be considered until the lottery proposal had been approved during the special session. During debate on the House floor it became clear that the BP legislation would contain a number of special projects or earmarks. It was also clear that the earmarks were intended to entice legislators into approving 75 percent of future BP settlement funds for the Gulf Coast counties. Many lawmakers had argued that the rest should get a bigger share of the BP money, since the funds were intended to compensate the entire state’s sales tax revenue loss due to the oil spillage. There were also many earmarks that were approved in the state in 2016. As the bond bill was being passed in 2016, Senate and House leaders tried to get enough votes to pass a controversial tax reduction. The bond bill passed the day after the tax cut, which was the largest in state history. To support this work, you can make a regular donation to us today as part of the Spring Member Drive.