State Lawmakers act quickly to pass development bills

JACKSON – The Mississippi Legislature, in an unusually busy opening day, passed two bills dealing with economic development issues.
On Tuesday, the Legislature passed a bill to provide up $35 million in incentives to lure a German-based pipe manufacturing company to locate a new plant in Tunica County.
It also passed a bill that will ensure that Mississippi’s 15 community colleges receive about $20 million per year for work force training.
Both bills passed with limited opposition and now go to the governor.
“We’re in the process of working with the Senate and the governor to do everything we can do to maintain jobs and hopefully create new ones,” said House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi.
The incentive package for the Tunica County project, which was revealed Monday, includes $15 million in bonds along with $5 million from Tunica County to construct the building for the company.
The state also is providing a loan guarantee of $20 million to help the company purchase $60 million in equipment. The state is scheduled to get back all but about $4 million of its investment over a 20-year period.
At the site, German company Wilh. Schulz will construct pipe for the oil and gas industry. The governor said the company will invest $300 million and employ 500 people within five years in Tunica.
The other measure deals with the current law under which community colleges receive about $20 million from the unemployment compensation fund each year to provide work force training.
If the fund goes below $500 million, the appropriations to the community colleges stop and a tax is supposed to be raised on employers to support it.
The current minimum tax on employers is 0.7 percent of the first $7,000 pay of each employee. Under the current law, when the fund dips below $500 million, the minimum tax is supposed to increase to 2.3 percent, or from $49 per worker to $161.
Because the recession has more people are receiving unemployment compensation now, the fund has dipped to about $480 million.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, said the U.S. Department of Labor is allowing the state to drop the trigger to about $365 million.
The legislation passed Tuesday drops the trigger in the fund and prevents the tax hike on employers.
Kirby said the work force training is needed now more than ever because of the tough economic times.
“The community colleges train welders, electricians, plumbers, whatever the need is for an existing business or a new business,” he said. “It helps keep the unemployment at a lower rate.”

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal