HED:Gary Perilloux: Mississippi economic plan worthy but rushed

CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: PERILL

HED:Gary Perilloux: Mississippi economic plan worthy but rushed

Mississippi is no different from many states in one respect.

The legislative process, when it matters most, often is clear as mud and arcane as an Egyptian hieroglyph.

In theory, this week’s special session should be well understood by the average Mississippian.

In reality, it’s more likely clear as mud.

One part of the plan calls for a scorecard on how the state executes its new economic blueprint.

Let’s apply that scorecard to the plan’s design.

And let’s be quick to issue praise where it’s well-deserved.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove deserves accolades for his energy and desire to make Mississippi a better place to live and do business. In those most important respects, we could hardly have done better in electing a governor.

Score a big bonus for the governor.

The Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development, a group of private sector business people working with state government, has forged a dialogue to produce the blueprint.

Musgrove and state economic development chief J.C. Burns provided ample early input into the process to revise the state’s economic incentives. That briefing process in a state partnership tour worked well.

Score a bonus for the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development.

But finding a clear, cogent copy of the final bill last week as it was to be offered to legislators in the special session was no easy task. Last-minute maneuvering on who would orchestrate job training programs MDECD or the community colleges contributed to the confusion. And legislators late in the week were almost sure they would excise a local-option tax for economic development from the bill.

That again was about control. And the Legislature will always look at handing over taxing authority to other bodies with a skeptical eye.

Musgrove spoke Thursday in Tupelo about legislators having at least six or seven days to review the bill. And they were the lucky ones.

The legislative process, of course, is prone to such pitfalls: rushed bills, quick-flying amendments and brinkmanship that creates the potential for chaos.

Musgrove’s argument has been that this economic plan is too important to delay. But it’s also too important to rush.

A streamlined plan hitting two or three major incentives this year the kind of big-ticket items needed to woo huge industrial projects, the kind Musgrove is afraid might get off the hook would have been better.

And we could have followed up with a thorough, comprehensive, well thought-out, well-justified plan next spring.

This was not the ideal way to rewrite a state’s economic gameplan. Score a minus for the administration.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is well-known for its cost-benefits analyses. Its also notorious for taking forever to complete them. Musgrove’s corollary of the Corps was a hastily designed synthesis of other states’ best incentives by consultant KPMG.

What this economic plan needed was something between the Corps’ meticulousness and Musgrove’s manic pace.

As it is, we’ll have to trust KPMG’s judgment and the governor’s guts.

And if we’re fortunate, the plan’s execution will be clearer and more successful than its conception.

When the history books are rewritten, the Musgrove legacy will rise or fall on his mission to revitalize schools through higher teacher salaries and higher school standards and on how many quality jobs his Advantage Mississippi Initiative of 2000 generates in years to come.

It’s an intense gamble that could make Musgrove the greatest governor in the state’s history.

Looking at his plan, warts and all, I wouldn’t bet against him.

Gary Perilloux is business editor of the Daily Journal.