Bipartisan bill tests economic development incentives’ effectiveness



By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

State Rep. Brad Mayo, an Oxford Republican, and Sen. David Blount, a Jackson Democrat, may be on different sides of the political aisle, but they can agree on a good idea.

That idea is legislation to require a regular analysis of the incentives offered to lure economic development projects to the state.

Mayo, an investment adviser in his first term in the state House, said he and Blount were in the same 2012 meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Chicago where the topic of the need for additional oversight of economic incentive packages offered by the states was discussed.

As a conservative, Mayo said watching out for all expenditures of taxpayer money is something to be taken seriously.

“It made all the sense in the world to put these safeguards in place,” Mayo said.



The legislation, which was signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant this week, authorizes the University Research Center to analyze the incentives provided by the state and submit a report at the beginning of each new four-year term of the Mississippi Legislature.

The House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees will hold a joint hearing to hear the report of the University Research Center, which is the research arm of the Institutions of Higher Learning.

Mayo said the Legislature then would have the option to make changes to the law, if needed, based on the report.

He said the report will ensure that the state is getting what was promised for the incentives that were provided. For instance, did the company receiving the incentives create the jobs that were promised and make the investment that was promised?

In recent years, Mississippi, like most states, has provided millions of dollars to entice companies to locate in the state and create jobs.

Mayo also pointed out that the report will give the University Research Center the opportunity to look at the entire state tax structure. There are many incentive programs in place that were not proposed by the Mississippi Development Authority, but by legislators through the years.

“I think in the long run this bill will make a huge difference in policy decisions regarding public money,” said Blount, a second-term legislator who is in the commercial real estate business.

Both legislators filed similar bills, but only one could go to the governor. Blount said he was happy to give up his bill and work with Mayo on his.

“I really enjoyed working with Rep. Mayo,” he said. Both said that the Mississippi Development Authority and the Pew Research Center also provided input on the final bill.

Pew, a Washington-based non-partisan group that provides information on various public policy issues, made the presentation to the National Conference of State Legislators in 2012 that caught the attention of both Mayo and Blount.

Mayo conceded that under Executive Director Brent Christensen that MDA is doing an annual report on the effectiveness of the state’s incentive packages, but said it made sense to have an independent group do the research.

MDA spokesman Jeff Rent said his agency had no problem with a routine, thorough examination of incentive programs to ensure their effectiveness.

The bill will put in law that MDA would continue to do reports on the effectiveness of its incentive programs in addition to the independent analysis done by the economic developers at the University Research Center.

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