BOBBY HARRISON: Jackson metro area fared well in 2013 session

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – It has been well documented that for the first time in modern history the state’s three most powerful politicians are all Republican.
Perhaps just as important, but not talked about nearly as much is the fact that all three are from the metro Jackson area – also a first in modern state political history.
Gov. Phil Bryant is a native of Moorhead in the Delta, but lived most of his formative years in Jackson and started his political career in Rankin County and still depends on the Republican stronghold as his primary base of support.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is a Rankin County native, having gone to school in Florence and remaining in the Jackson metro area to start his career and family.
Speaker Philip Gunn is a Clinton native. He went away for school to Baylor, but returned to start his career and raise his family.
It is safe to say all have strong roots to the Jackson metro area community.
Perhaps it is a coincidence, but the Jackson metro area did well during the recently completed 2013 legislative session.
Whether it was funds to help local communities make road improvements, such as Ridgeland and Flowood, or to make improvements to the Thalia Mara Hall, a auditorium in downtown Jackson, or to Parham Bridges Park in northeast Jackson by making improvements to the entrance and the walking trail, the Jackson area did well.
Jackson, of course, is the state’s capital city and largest municipality. It benefits the entire state for the capital city to have a certain level of amenities. For instance, it is a positive for the state as a whole to have a credible zoo located in central Mississippi – in the capital city.
How much the state should invest to ensure those amenities are in place is a tough call where, in my humble opinion, reasonable minds can disagree. But I do strongly believe that people or lawmakers who criticize every expenditure directed toward the capital city do not see the big picture or the importance of the capital city to Mississippi as a whole.
Besides more than $10 million in bonds directed at about 10 projects in the metro area, the Legislature passed and Bryant signed into law legislation to help build a mall in the city of Pearl in Rankin County, the aforementioned Republican stronghold.
Legislators who supported the project said it would be no ordinary mall, but a tourist attraction that highlighted the state’s cultural and musical heritage.
It is estimated that the mall will receive more than $20 million in rebates on the sales tax collected on the items sold there.
The sales tax rebate program, developed by former Rep. Ricky Cummings, D-Iuka, was envisioned to be used to lure tourism attractions, such as amusement parks, to the state. The program was used to build the stadium to attract the Atlanta Braves minor league team to Pearl.
It has never been used for a mall. The funny thing is that during debate on the issue supporters conceded the mall would be built whether the state provided the tax incentives or not, but that the incentives would speed up construction.
The mall has the potential to attract people from other Mississippi communities taking sale tax revenue away from those towns. In a real sense, the legislation gives not only that retail development an advantage over other shopping areas, but also gives the city a Pearl an advantage over other Mississippi towns.
For 24 years, the speaker of the House was from Northeast Mississippi. During that time some argued that Northeast Mississippi fared better than other areas in divvying up state funds.
Improvements to the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum in Tupelo and the University of Mississippi Advanced Education Center in Tupelo could be cited as examples of the influence of past speakers and powerful Northeast Mississippi legislators.
But other areas fared well under those speakers – just as no doubt other areas will under the current leadership.
For the time being, though, it is fair to say 2013 was the Jackson metro area’s year in the Mississippi Legislature.
BOBBY HARRISON is the Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com