The tax collecting agency has been housed for 16 years in a metal warehouse between Clinton and Raymond, and has spent years seeking a new location
A consultant to former Gov. Haley Barbour's administration recommended last year that the state buy or lease downtown Jackson's Landmark Building, saying it was the cheapest suitable option.
A bill to ratify that recommendation was introduced by Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson. After passing the Senate, the measure died in a House committee, apparently on Gunn's order. Gunn says it's cheaper for the agency to stay in the rented warehouse, and acknowledges the location adjoins his district.
"It's simply dollars and cents," Gunn said. "Is it insufficient where they are?"
Monday, as rain fell, department spokeswoman Kathy Waterbury said "strategically placed" buckets were collecting leaks from the roof and water was ponding in the parking lot. However, she said the situation could be worse — sometimes rain drains from the parking lot into the building, a condition that has made some rooms unusable.
Department employees have 36-square-foot cubicles, well below the 80 to 100 square feet that the state normally seeks in new or renovated office space, Waterbury said.
"We're disappointed," Waterbury said.
Ben Allen, a former Jackson City Council member who now leads a business group promoting downtown Jackson, has stronger words for Gunn, calling the speaker's opposition "politics."
"This is a very easy, recognizable, sensible, logical way to help our capital city," said Allen, who leads Downtown Jackson Partners. "Some people apparently don't care."
Gunn said that in talks with his House committee chairman and Gov. Phil Bryant, neither "are inclined to move them."
Bryant's support for a move also appears to be wavering, with spokesman Mick Bullock saying the governor "does not have an opinion that the Department of Revenue must relocate now."
"We need to find the right balance between having adequate facilities, but also facilities that are affordable and don't create a unnecessary financial burden on the taxpayers," Bullock said. He did not answer further inquiries about whether the department should stay in Raymond indefinitely or whether the previous study did not strike the balance between affordability and adequacy.
The Landmark Center, a Capitol Street office building that is being vacated by AT&T, was offered for sale for $14.1 million, well below the $44 million that consultants Cushman & Wakefield projected that it would cost to build from scratch on state-owned land. The 345,000-square-foot structure was also offered for lease at the time, although Blount said the owners are no longer willing to lease.
The study followed a proposal to build along Lakeland Drive in northeast Jackson. Residents of the area protested the plan, saying it would worsen traffic on the already busy street.
The rented warehouse and the Landmark Center are both in in Blount's Senate district. Blount, chairman of the Senate Public Property Committee, said he supports a move based on the study.
"What's in the best interest, long-term, of the folks who work there and the best interest of the state?" Blount asked.
Blount said he had spoken to Gunn, but refused to disclose what the two said to each other.
Allen, though, said he fears that leaders will ignore the study and instead pick a new location for political reasons.
"It appears the speaker of the House has hit the reset button," Allen said.
The bill is Senate Bill 2795.