The state Legislature may soon be heading into its fourth special session. Gov. Haley Barbour said he aims to consider $14 million in upgrades for Baxter Healthcare Corp., in Cleveland.
"We need to save these valuable jobs and not allow them to be shipped out of state or out of the country," Barbour said in a statement released last week, but Barbour said he also wanted assurances from both the House and the Senate that neither body would attempt to add other bond projects to the bill should the special session be called.
Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, a philosophical carbon copy of the governor, said she has no problems with that, while Democratic House Speaker Billy McCoy said he has reservations.
"If Gov. Barbour is truly concerned about job creation and business development in Mississippi, he will open the call to the entire slate of bond issues debated by the House and Senate in the last special session," said McCoy in a statement.
Those concerns over an entire slate of bond issues ended this year's third special session with a snarl when members of both houses could not agree which projects were worthy of state bond money. House members attempted to pass a bond bill worth more than $100 million for numerous projects, plus $10 million for Baxter Healthcare Corp.
The more conservative Senate disregarded the House proposal and whipped out a smaller $14 million bill that targeted only Baxter. The House stuck to its guns, but with Barbour's agenda of passing Momentum Mississippi already met, the week-long session abruptly ended. Barbour referred to the more massive House bill as laden with pork.
Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Dowdy denied the label. "These are not pork projects, and this was not wasteful spending," said Dowdy. "These are projects that help communities all across the state in a responsible manner."
Recently elected Cleveland Mayor David Work said he hoped the Legislature soon irons out its differences.
"Baxter is our largest employer as far as manufacturing," said Work, who worked for the company for 14 years and says the company employs about 800. "We just had an announcement that one of our industries that employ about 100-plus people is shutting down, so this would be a kind of double whammy if we lose Baxter."
Steel supplier Duo-Fast had been sold to Illinois Toolworks, who then announced a few months ago that it was moving production into other plants outside Cleveland.
Tuck told reporters that she was aware of the touchy nature of the project.
"We know the sensitivity of the Baxter project," Tuck said. "That's why we acted on it."