Corinth Mayor Tommy Irwin chairs the Mississippi Municipal League’s 2013-2014 Legislative Committee, leading its lobbying efforts in the state Legislature, particularly for the Citizens for Economic Development Act. CEDA would allow cities to levy a local sales tax of up to 1 percent to pay for capital projects if 60 percent of voters approve. The city of Jackson got locally specific legislation that allowed such an election, and 90 percent of the voters last week approved a 1 percent sales tax for infrastructure. Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter Lena Mitchell talked with Irwin about the need for and prospects for the bill this year.
Q. CEDA hasn’t made any headway in the past few legislative sessions, and the consensus is that passage is unlikely this session. Why is the bill important?
A. People are so fed up who live in these communities that they haven’t seen paving trucks on their streets in years and years. Jackson did what every other city throughout Mississippi wants to do – have the option to decide our own future. This is a local issue and the elected officials and citizens in our communities know our issues better than anyone else. If they get to vote on the politicians they send to Jackson and come around looking for their vote every four years, they should be able to vote on whether or not they pay this voluntary tax.
Q. How much support is there for this tax among member municipalities in the MML and why do they support it?
A. At last count we had 151 resolutions from municipalities that support CEDA. We all believe infrastructure in our cities is a key part of economic development, and we’re all looking for whatever advantage we can find to attract businesses and industries to our communities. When developers look at where to locate, how drivable our streets are is high on the list.
Q. Some object because they say people who will be in the city paying the sales tax, particularly county residents, don’t get to vote on it. How do you respond to that argument?
A. For people who live in the county, they come into the city to shop and do business every day. They use the infrastructure we’re trying to maintain and improve, and because they don’t pay city property taxes they haven’t helped to pay for that upkeep. If they want to bring investments by businesses to bring jobs where they and their family members might work, they shouldn’t object to this bill because it benefits the whole county. We desperately need a way to fix things, and there are very few choices cities have.