Barbour: Economic special session postponed

JACKSON — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Wednesday he’s postponing a special legislative session he intended to call this week for a project that promises up to 500 jobs in the economically struggling Delta.

Barbour said the $300 million manufacturing plant is still planned, but the company needs more time to prepare. He said the session is being delayed because of a “technical issue.”

“It is this administration’s policy not to present projects to the Legislature until all details are finalized, even if the unresolved point is not between the company and the state,” Barbour said in a news release.

The governor said last week that he expected to call lawmakers to the Capitol this Thursday or Friday for a brief session to approve incentives for a company to build a “very sophisticated, advanced manufacturing” operation.

Barbour and Mississippi Development Authority officials have not publicly named the company, in keeping with their practice of withholding information about industrial projects until a company is ready for an announcement.

Lawmakers say they expect it to be a German firm that makes stainless steel pipes for oil and gas production, and that the factory would be built in Tunica County, south of Memphis, Tenn.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, said Wednesday that the state is being asked to spend less than $30 million on incentives. He said the state would get the money back if the company doesn’t meet its obligations, including creating 500 jobs in five years.

Barbour said state officials have been courting the company for several months. He said the deal between the state and the company was completed during his recent 13-day business trip to Asia.

Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, often criticizes the Republican governor on social issues but said Wednesday that Barbour deserves credit for trying to help one of the poorest parts of the state.

“If this company, and I’m sure it will, will have a success, then other companies will look at the Delta and look to locate here,” Mayo said. “We’ve got just a huge, indeterminate amount of land, more water than they will ever need. And now with (Interstate) 69 and the four-laning of Highway 61, we have the infrastructure in place.”

Mayo said the area also has an eager labor pool. Tunica County had a 13 percent unemployment rate in September, significantly higher than the state’s 8.8 percent.

“Companies that have located here have found that they can easily train people to their needs,” Mayo said.

Kirby said he believes lawmakers will quickly approve the incentives for the plant.

“I wish we had four more just like it going in around the state,” Kirby said.

Barbour said last week he might ask lawmakers during a special session to handle two matters unrelated to the manufacturing project — making changes in how some work force training money is handled and changing a state land easement so the National Park Service can take over some property that a private landowner wants to donate near a Civil War battlefield in north Mississippi.

The governor’s spokesman, Dan Turner, said Wednesday that the issue for the Corinth battlefield easement has been resolved and lawmakers won’t need to consider it.

Barbour has called three special sessions already this year, two of which were to complete work on a state budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. The first special session, which took place during the regular session, was to give county supervisors more leeway to spend local tax money on roads and bridges.

A special session usually costs at least $30,000 a day. Mississippi’s tax collections fell significantly short of expectations during the first three months of the fiscal year, and Barbour cut nearly $172 million — or about 2.9 percent — out of the nearly $6 billion budget in early September. He has said more budget cuts are likely.

Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press