By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Brent Christensen did not rule out the possibility of using legislation signed into law Thursday by Gov. Phil Bryant to try to entice Findlay, Ohio-based Cooper Tire to relocate its headquarters to Mississippi.
In response to questions, Christensen predicted that the tire manufacturer’s most modern and most efficient plant will be the Tupelo facility and “we would love to have more, but we will take it one step at a time.”
The first step, the state’s top economic developer said, is to finalize the state’s agreement to provide $20 million to lure Cooper to invest $140 million to modernize the Tupelo plant, which currently employs 1,600 people.
Legislation was passed during the just-completed session to authorize MDA to enter into an agreement to provide $20 million over a three-year period if Cooper commits to the modernization. As part of the agreement, ownership of the Cooper Tire buildings will be transferred to either the city of Tupelo or Lee County or both. Local governments are putting up $18 million.
The governor has yet to sign the Cooper legislation, though he is expected to.
The bill he signed Thursday would allow a company that moves a national or regional headquarters to Mississippi and creates at least 20 jobs to receive tax credits “equal to the actual relocation costs.”
The cumulative amount of the tax credits in any one year for all relocations could not exceed $1 million, though the tax credits could be carried forward for multiple years.
There has been speculation the Legislature in the past that Cooper was eyeing a relocation to Tupelo, though company officials have denied those rumors. Christensen stressed that there are no talks underway with Cooper on the possibility of a headquarters relocation.
He said the priority is finalizing the deal on the modernization of the Tupelo plant to “show them what a great partner we are … work up to the full marriage proposal.”
The headquarters legislation was one of three bills Bryant signed Thursday that he and others said would help spur economic development in the state.
He signed the Taxpayer Fairness Act on Thursday afternoon at the conclusion of the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual meeting in Jackson. MEC had lobbied for the legislation, which makes several changes to the tax code – some of which are business-specific while others could impact individual taxpayers.
Bryant and MEC officials said the legislation “evens the playing field” for the taxpayers, though opponents contended the result will be to make it more difficult to collect taxes from large corporations doing business in Mississippi.
The legislation will enhance the burden of the Department of Revenue to prove additional taxes are owed, and in general would make it easier for a taxpayer to appeal an adverse tax ruling. It also will lower the penalty on back taxes owed to the state.
The Department of Revenue at one point said many of the proposed changes could cost the state general fund up to $100 million per year.
On Thursday, Bryant, who appoints the tax commissioner, said he does not believe the legislation’s cost to the state would be that much, but that “if it is not fair to the taxpayers, it is not worth $100 million per year.”
Another bill Bryant signed will result in a reduction of the tax for pharmaceutical companies that have inventories in the state.