HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Two Pine Belt senators are among the six lawmakers who voted against the largest economic development projects in state history.
The projects are supposed to create 3,500 jobs in Mississippi. Senators Chris McDaniel and John Polk were two of only six lawmakers to oppose the the economic development bill.
"Out of 174 legislators, 122 house members, there were three that voted no, and out of the 52 senators, we had three senators who voted no," said Sen. Joey Fillingane, who presented the bill.
McDaniel said he felt the vote on the bill was rushed.
"As an initial matter, I don't think it's appropriate for any of us to vote on a bill that we haven't read," McDaniel said. "The bill was right at 200 pages long. We received it two hours prior to taking the vote."
Polk said his main reason for voting against the bill was the location of the proposed projects.
"I told my constituents that I did not intend to vote for another bond issue that they would have to pay for for an industry that's put north of I-20," Polk said. "Of the last eight or nine mega bond issues to get mega industries into our state, all but one has been north of I-20 in Jackson. I want to make sure that if there is a reason why south Mississippi continues to be overlooked, what is that reason? We can make changes if they're necessary. Tell us what those changes are."
Fillingane said Continental Tire will receive $243 million from the state and another $20 million from Hinds County to build the largest tire plant in North America. The project is set to create 2,500 of the 3,500 jobs.
Fillingane said the other project is Louisiana-based Edison Chouest locating in the Port of Gulfport. This project is expected to create 1,000 jobs and will receive $11 million for the state.
"I think it's a win for the state of Mississippi, and I'm excited about it," he said. "Yes, we do want one of these types of facilities here closer to home, and I know that was a concern of some of my local legislators who maybe voted the other way. The way I look at it, there will come a time when we have the opportunity to have something like this here, and we're going to want the other legislators to vote in support of our project. So sometimes you have to vote in favor of their projects in order to expect them to support yours when it comes your area's turn to get one of these."
Fillingane also said the state doesn't decide where companies build, but also said the Pine Belt was considered for the Continental Tire facility.
"The state doesn't place these projects," Fillingane said. "The outside companies who are going to be investing millions, or in this case a billion dollars, gets to decide where they want to invest their money. I can tell you that a local site was shown to the tire plant, here in Forrest and Lamar County. That came out in our hearing in finance committee. So we were considered. Unfortunately, the company thought that the Hinds County site was more fitted to their needs, and they get to make that call. But the Mississippi Development Authority did show a site here in the Forrest and Lamar County area to this company, and so we're on the map. We're getting shown. This one wasn't our time, but hopefully the next one will be."
Polk said, "Everyone is not getting the benefit, and that's one of the things we need to realize. We move a mega industry into Mississippi, 2,500 jobs, good paying jobs, that's very good, but where the real economic opportunity comes are in all the jobs that are created by the money being spent by the people who have the big jobs."
Fillingane said, "We all ran on providing more and better jobs. The average salary for all 3,500 jobs is $40,000, excluding benefits. That's just the pay. In Mississippi, it's huge. I mean, our average median income in the state I think hovers around $20,000. These jobs will pay twice that on average plus have healthcare benefits, retirement benefits. Those kinds of things. So these are really great jobs."
McDaniel said he wasn't concerned about the locations of the projects, but said big companies shouldn't be the state's focus.
"Corporate welfare, as a general rule, should concern us as Mississippians," McDaniel said. "With so many small businesses in Mississippi suffering, why can we justify or how can we justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars for a Fortune 500 company, essentially, from Germany that has $42.5 billion in sales each year?"
Fillingane said, "That's the economic development world we live in. It would be great if we could just say, 'y'all come on in' and they would come without giving any sort of incentives, but that's just not reality anymore. We not only compete against other neighboring states, we compete globally. For instance, the tire plant is from Germany. They looked at, I think, two other countries for this plant and 12 other states, so you can't just say 'come here if you want to or not.' I mean, that just doesn't work."
Polk agreed that growing Mississippi businesses should be a focus.
"With $240 to $250 million on a bond issue, I wonder sometimes if we made some programs, really good programs to help small business in Mississippi grow, those businesses would grow all over our state, not just one locale," Pol said. "How much better off maybe would Mississippi be? Not and ignore mega industry. We've go to have it, but at least add that component to Mississippi's economy."
McDaniel said the biggest economic benefit for the state would be to remove monetary hurdles for businesses.
"The best way to grow an economy is to make sure that corporations are unhindered by obstacles," he said. "That is, things like the franchise tax, things like corporate income tax, things like the inventory tax. Why don't we remove those obstacles for all businesses? That way, our economy is hospitable to all businesses. What the studies have shown, these larger companies, and even smaller ones, gravitate toward states with no corporate income tax. Why not take that approach instead of singling out a company, spending hundreds of millions of dollars and hoping that everything works out in the future? They tell us that we don't have enough money for state retirement. They tell us we don't have enough money for teachers. They tell us we don't have enough money for highways and bridges and our roads, but we had enough money to give hundreds of millions of dollars to a big company in Germany. That gave me some heartburn."
Fillingane said that these economic projects are necessary to generate tax dollars to fund the kinds of projects McDaniel mentioned.
"We've got to continue encouraging manufacturers to come to our state because these generate tax dollars that we can then turn around and spend on adequate education and on roads and bridges and police and Mississippi Department of Human Services and all these other facilities and agencies that our state government funds," Fillingane said. "These are the dollars that we fund them with."