In a session rivaling all others this year in terms of brevity, state lawmakers approved $14 million for Baxter Healthcare in Cleveland July 15 in less than two hours. The money, another installment of a $24 million legislative commitment will allow Baxter to expand its product line and remove the cloud hanging over the heads of the company's almost 800 employees.
Gov. Haley Barbour signed the bill later that same day. "I regret a special session was necessary to deal with this issue," Barbour said in a statement, "but I am glad the state kept its commitment to Baxter Healthcare."
Cleveland Mayor David Work said he had the assurance of plant managers that a no-go on the money would not have automatically meant a closing of the plant, though expanding the plant elsewhere had been a possibility. Baxter plant manager Mark Jackson told reporters that the money will "make us less susceptible to market changes."
This session, which cost taxpayers about $51,000 in salaries and travel expenses, marked the fourth session this year, totaling a price tag of close to $1.30 million.
House Speaker Billy McCoy said the House had attempted to address the Baxter deal in earlier sessions but that House plans had been rejected by the Senate.
"The House several times in the past had given full support to the Baxter Healthcare project," McCoy said in a statement. "Each time the governor and the state Senate had other ideas about how to handle the matter, and we were disappointed with their actions."
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, and Rep John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, said they didn't approve of the large number of special sessions called. Holland described Barbour's preference for special session legislating, which gives the governor complete control to set the agenda, as "special session governing."
"Governing by special session is politically cheap," said Holland.
"It may be effective for Haley Barbour, but I'm not sure it's effective for the state," said Mayo. "If the governor would meet the House, we'd go more than halfway. We could get all this work done in the regular session, but the governor's attitude is my way or the highway."
Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg said House and Governor communications problems were an issue: "I've seen Barbour address the special session before this last one. He came in and addressed 62 representatives of the conservative coalition. He has bent over backward. The problem is you have members of the leadership who don't want to work with him. Special sessions are the only avenue that the governor has to get the programs passed that he's trying to pass."
Mayo said Barbour is giving corporations too much power. "The state of Mississippi is increasingly being held hostage by corporations with the threat of leaving the state if we don't pony up some tax-backed money for them to expand. Eventually someone is going to be paying this money back," Mayo said.