By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Two bills designed to spur economic development in Northeast Mississippi passed the Senate on Thursday without a dissenting vote.
One piece of legislation provides a $2,000 tax credit for each new cut-and-sew employee hired in the ailing furniture industry.
Another establishes a fund to provide loans to sweet potato farmers, many of whom lost much of their crop last year because of the unusually heavy rains during harvest time.
The legislation now goes back to the House. That chamber can accept the changes made by the Senate and send the legislation on to Gov. Haley Barbour or invite conference where legislative leaders will meet to try to work out the differences.
“I have not talked to the (House Ways and Means) chairman, but I am hopeful they will accept our changes,” said Senate Finance Chair Dean Kirby, R-Pearl.
The earliest the House could take up the legislation would be Monday. Both the House and Senate left for the weekend on Thursday. Both chambers are ahead of schedule for the session.
On Thursday, Sen. Jack Gordon, D-Okolona, who has been hospitalized at University Medical Center in Jackson since Sunday morning, visited the Senate to vote on the sweet potato legislation. Gordon represents portions of both Chickasaw and Calhoun counties where the majority of the sweet potato farmers are located.
“I know the sweet potato issue is close to his heart,” said Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate. “He has worked hard on the issue.”
Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, whom Gordon was going to visit Saturday when he became ill, said Gordon wanted to be in the Senate for the vote on the sweet potato bill, though he has not yet been released from UMC.
He was listed as critical when he was admitted to the hospital. He is now listed as in good condition.
A sweet potato farmer could apply for a 2.5 percent interest rate loan. They would have five to seven years to repay the loan. The state would issue bonds to pay the bank in case of defaults.
The bill would allow sweet potato farmers to apply for up to $1,700 per acre, which would cover about half of the production costs, excluding machinery.
Supporters of the cut-and-sew legislation say it will help keep jobs in Mississippi. Many of those jobs have been lost to foreign countries where the labor costs are cheaper.
The tax break is designed to make the Mississippi work force more attractive to the furniture manufacturers, many of which are located in Northeast Mississippi.
Similar legislation was vetoed last year by Gov. Haley Barbour. But supporters believe the current bill makes concessions that might make it more acceptable to the governor.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.