By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Many Northeast Mississippi furniture manufacturers now are awaiting a decision from Gov. Haley Barbour on whether he will sign into law legislation that would provide them a tax break for each new cut-and-sew employee.
The House has sent to Barbour the legislation designed to spur jobs growth in the ailing furniture industry – most of which is located in Northeast Mississippi.
Last year Barbour vetoed similar legislation, and the Senate did not make an effort to garner the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto.
Barbour recently told a group of furniture manufacturers that this version of the legislation is better, but said he wanted to study the bill before deciding whether to sign it or veto it.
“I am very hopeful he will sign it,” said Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, the primary author of the legislation. “I don’t have any prediction, but I am hopeful.
“We made some changes that we hope will make him more inclined to sign it for this great industry. We believe it will make a difference. It will create jobs.”
The legislation this year would provide the $2,000 tax break just for new cut-and-sew hires. The legislation last year would have provided a tax break for all cut-and-sew employees.
Plus, the Senate added language this year, accepted by the House, that would require the state Tax Commission to verify the new hires.
A study by the Mississippi State Stennis Institute of Government said cut-and-sew jobs help Northeast Mississippi because they provide a higher wage and more benefits than people who fill those jobs often can find elsewhere.
Overall, the upholstered furniture industry employs more than 47,000 people 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 to foreign countries where cheaper labor can be found.
Members of the Mississippi Furniture Association said they believe the tax credit would reverse the jobs loss.
“It will give incentives for bringing jobs back,” Ken Pruett, president of the Mississippi Furniture Association, said in an earlier interview.
Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, said he plans to meet with the governor to ask him to sign the legislation.
“This is all incentives,” Turner said. “I can’t see anything wrong with incentives. If it doesn’t create jobs, it won’t cost the state a dime.”
Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said last week that the governor is waiting to get the legislation before deciding whether he will sign or veto it.
On final passage, only three members of the 122-member House opposed the legislation and no member of the Senate voted against it.
The proposal passed by a similar margin last year, but Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said the Senate opted not to try to override the governor because the votes to do so weren’t there.
The bill has not reached the governor’s desk yet, so it is not clear when the deadline for him to act on it will be. But it should be this month.