OTHER OPINION: Keep a short leash on 16th Section lands

By Sun Herald, Gulfport/Biloxi

One of the most successful bills ever passed by the Mississippi Legislature was the 16th Section Reform Act of 1978. As The Associated Press’ Jack Elliott Jr. wrote this week, the legislation “ended sweetheart leases that rewarded politically connected folks and shortchanged schools. Before then, 16th Section lands were often leased for pennies an acre.”
As one of his duties, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann oversees the management and leasing of more than 640,000 acres of 16th Section public school trust lands that benefit 107 school districts.
It is a duty Hosemann has taken very seriously.
Within 90 days of taking office in 2008, Hosemann published 16th Section lease information on the secretary of state’s website. He has published standard lease forms for use by school districts. He reviews and approves all leases to ensure they reflect fair market rental. To foster competition, he publishes online notices of public bids for hunting and fishing leases, agricultural leases and mineral leases. And he signed an agreement with the Mississippi Forestry Commission to bring modern forest management practices to timber production on 16th Section land.
The result?
“Since I took office, we have increased total 16th Section land revenue by over $17 million per year in a down economy – up from $54 million in 2007 to $71 million in 2011. Sixteenth Section land is a $91 million business, and it needs to be run like a business,” Hosemann said recently at the Mississippi Economic Council’s Capital Day. But, he added, “There are just a few who want to run these lands like their own candy store. Make no mistake, if we go back (to) sweetheart deals with no oversight, someone is going to have to pay for the additional cost of education, and that someone is you.”
Yet last year the state House of Representatives passed a bill that would have allowed school districts to lease land without Hosemann’s consent. The state Senate killed the legislation.
Should a similar attempt be made during the current legislative session, it should meet a similar fate.
Sun Herald, Biloxi-Gulfport