House OKs $20 million for Cooper

cooper-tire-logoBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The state House voted Tuesday to issue $20 million in bonds to help secure a $140 million investment by Cooper Tire for renovations and upgrades at its Tupelo manufacturing plant.

Lee County and Tupelo officials have been working on getting state assistance for the project at the plant, which employs 1,600.

The Findlay, Ohio-based company has stated its intentions to spend $140 million to make upgrades at one or more of its plants, which are located in multiple sites in the United States and worldwide.

The belief is if the state will make a financial commitment to the project, Cooper will expend the funds in Tupelo and ensure that the plant remains open, and possibly expanding, for at least the next 10 years.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, who offered the amendment, said the funds would ensure that “Cooper is competitive in a global market and continues to employ people in Lee County.”

Holland’s amendment was one of several offered to a larger bond proposal. He also was successful in passing an amendment to secure $700,000 in bond funds to match local funds to complete renovations and updates at the Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tupelo.

The final outcome of the bond projects will be decided later this month as House and Senate leaders meet to reach an agreement on the size of the bond package the Legislature will pass.

Holland said Tuesday’s approval by the House of the Cooper project and the Presley Birthplace renovations ensures they will be under consideration when the legislative negotiators meet.

The House Ways and Means Committee offered the bond proposal to the House with projects totaling about $96 million. On the floor of the House on Tuesday, amendments were passed to add Cooper and other projects totaling another $61 million.

All of the amendments were passed via voice vote.

In total this session, the House has passed bond proposals totaling more than $400 million. Leaders in both chambers have said the final bond package will have to be whittled to near $200 million to ensure that the legislation does not increase the state’s bond debt. The state is expected to pay off between $200 million and $250 million in bonds this year.

Reps. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn; Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo; Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie; and Mac Huddleston, R-Pontotoc, signed off to co-sponsor the Cooper amendment.

Lee County is expected to provide another $18 million to Cooper in the form of tax breaks over a 10-year period to help lure the company to make the investment in Tupelo.

One method of finalizing the transaction, according to Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, whose district includes Cooper, would be for Lee County to purchase the Cooper Tire building for $20 million with the funds to make the purchase coming from the $20 million state bond bill. Cooper then could use those funds for its modernization.

There also has been speculation that the state funds would be committed to Cooper over a three-year period – perhaps eight years the first year, followed by two installments of $6 million.

Cooper officials are expected to return in the coming days to the Capitol for the second time this session to explain the project to legislative leaders.

Another bond proposal offered by Reps. Nick Bain, D-Corinth, and Lester “Bubba” Carpenter, R-Burnsville, would provide $500,000 to the city of Corinth for infrastructure needs.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com