Lawmakers to open session on positive note

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – While the 2010 legislative session is expected to be filled with gloom and doom, both House and Senate leaders said it will start on a positive note today as they take up legislation designed to offer incentives to attract 500 jobs to Tunica County.
Gov. Haley Barbour announced Monday that German company Wilh. Schulz would manufacture pipe for the oil and gas industry in Tunica. The governor said the company will invest $300 million and employ 500 people within five years in Tunica.
House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, who attended Barbour’s news conference along with Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate, said “even tomorrow,” which is the start of the session, he plans for the House to take up the incentive package for the manufacturing plant.
The incentive package includes $15 million in bonds along with $5 million from Tunica County to construct the building. The state also is providing a loan guarantee of $20 million to help the company purchase $60 million in equipment for its first North American facility.
But Barbour said the bond debt will be repaid primarily by Shulz through the lease payments it makes on the building. At the end of a 20-year period, Barbour projected, the state will have invested between $3 million and $4 million, mostly in site preparation in the plant.
It is scheduled to begin production early in 2011 and hire 200 people in the start-up phase. The average salary is expected to be $32,000 annually.
While the announcement means the session will open on a positive note, all agree that because of the unprecedented drop in state tax collections the following weeks will be difficult.
“Hopefully we will deal with some very important issues, and we will,” McCoy said. “But the budget is the biggest issue and that continues to evolve. But it doesn’t get any better.”
Bryant said he and the Senate leadership were looking to cut their budget by 10 percent to match the cuts that most state agencies have sustained. A 10 percent cut in the Senate budget will save about $700,000, a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated overall shortfall of more than $700 million for the upcoming fiscal year.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said he opposes the cuts in critical areas, such as education.