Barbour vetoes bill designed to help furniture industry

JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed legislation Monday night designed to provide a $2,000 tax credit for each cut-and-sew job.
The legislation was created and passed in hopes of retaining jobs in Northeast Mississippi’s ailing upholstered furniture industry.
Barbour said he vetoed the legislation because of the impact it would have on the state general fund budget – costing as much as $11 million this year. Plus, he said the state tax credit law was designed to encourage newer, higher-salaried employment, and this proposal did not do that.
“It is apparent this bill contains major flaws that adversely affect the state budget, conflict with existing state law and create loopholes that limit its value,” Barbour said in a veto message signed at 6:11 p.m. Monday and filed in the Senate docket room a little before 7.
“It also singles out the furniture industry, but would not cover other important Mississippi businesses that are struggling.”
Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, the primary author of the legislation, said he wished the governor had voiced specific problems while the bill made its way through the legislative process so that those problems could have been fixed.
“But now that we’re here, I look forward to continuing to work with the governor to try to create jobs in Northeast Mississippi,” Nunnelee said.
Nunnelee said he did not believe the two-thirds vote could be garnered to override Barbour’s veto.
Barbour said he recognized “the good intentions” that led to the passage of the bill. Three years ago during his State of the State speech the governor said he was not giving up on the industry, which is located primarily in Northeast Mississippi, and in his veto message Monday he said still supports the industry and will work to try to prevent the loss of cut-and-sew and other furniture jobs to foreign countries.
The bill passed both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature with limited opposition, though, at one point it looked as if the House leadership might kill it. At that point, Reps. Preston Sullivan, D-Okolona, and Greg Ward, D-Ripley, met with Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, to convince him of the importance of the bill.
Ward said he was “sorely disappointed” by Barbour’s veto.
“That bill is about the little ladies who work in the sewing department,” Ward said. “It was supposed to help them keep their jobs.”
Members of the Mississippi Furniture Association lobbied extensively for the legislation. They said they believed the tax credit would save the 4,500 existing cut-and-sew jobs and could bring back an additional 1,500 jobs that have been lost to other countries with cheaper work forces.
A study by the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government said cut-and-sew jobs are beneficial to Northeast Mississippi because they provide good employment to employees, traditionally women, who would be forced to work for lower wages and less – if any – benefits if they lost those jobs.
Overall, the upholstered furniture industry employs more than 47,000 in direct and indirect jobs and is a $6 billion industry, according to the Stennis study. The study also said the industry was steadily losing jobs.

Bobby Harrison/Daily Journal

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