Shotgun Blues

Speaker Philip Gunn racked up some big political and legislative wins this week, getting a gun maker to consider moving to Mississippi and getting the Department of Revenue to remain in his Clinton district at the expense of downtown Jackson.

Speaker Philip Gunn racked up some big political and legislative wins this week, getting a gun maker to consider moving to Mississippi and getting the Department of Revenue to remain in his Clinton district at the expense of downtown Jackson. Photo by Amile Wilson

Democratic lawmakers are questioning why the Mississippi Legislature is getting a funding boost when other agency budgets are shrinking. Democrats point to this year's $30 million legislative operations budget.

Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, explained that the legislative budget usually increases for the first year of a four-term session, which is 120 days long. In subsequent years, when the legislative session lasts just 90 days, legislative operations, the budget to run the Legislature decreases.

That did not happen this session, Brown said.

"At a time we're cutting the budget and we're not funding education, why are we spending another $5 million (on legislative operations)?" Brown, a legislator since 2000, asked the Jackson Free Press.

"I thought we were supposed to lead by example," said Rep. Johnny Stringer, the former House Appropriations Chairman.

Stinger declined to speculate on what the extra money would be used for and referred questions to Senate and House Appropriations Chairmen, Eugene "Buck" Clarke and Herb Frierson, respectively. Clarke and Frierson did not return phone messages left Monday.

DOR's Closed to Jackson

State officials dealt the city of Jackson a big blow this week when the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees the operation of state buildings, recommended the former WorldCom Building in Clinton as the permanent home for the Department of Revenue, now housed in what's practically a shed, also in Clinton.

Downtown Jackson had been a front-runner for the agency's headquarters, especially after a 2011 report commissioned by then-Gov. Haley Barbour said buying the Landmark Building would be the cheapest option for cash-strapped Mississippi.

Earlier this year, at the request of Senate Public Property Committee Chairman David Blount, a Democrat whose district includes downtown Jackson, analysts from Millsaps College's Else School of Management determined that the state could save $30 million in cash flow over two decades by moving to the Jackson building, which is listed just above $7 million.

The Millsaps study shows that Mississippi spends about $15.5 million every year on leased office space. Cutting the total square footage of office space would save the state $5 million per year. Blount said purchasing the Landmark Building--which AT&T vacated in 2012--would come with the added bonus of the state acquiring an asset once it is paid off.

The issue has since become politically charged with Republican Speaker Philip Gunn wanting to keep the agency close to his Clinton district. It appears that he has flexed enough political muscle to make that happen.

In a news release, DOR said that leasing the former WorldCom Building, now called South Pointe, for 20 years would cost the state $41.4 million, which "represented the lowest total cost to the state."

Gunn and the Big Guns

In January, after a shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., reenergized the national gun-control debate, House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton and other Republican officials made a public appeal for gun makers to relocate to Mississippi.

It was unclear at the time whether the plea would have any effect, but last week, two companies wrote to Gunn that they were open to exploring Mississippi. Beretta USA and Remington both sent Gunn letters, which he posted on his Facebook page.

Ugo Gussalli Beretta, the Italian firearm maker's president and chief executive officer, said he was interested in considering Gunn's proposal and that a Beretta attorney would follow up to talk about the details.

Gunn could not contain his excitement. "As you know, gun manufacturers are under continued threat while the national media cheerleads the radical efforts of liberal states to strip 2nd Amendment rights," he wrote on Facebook.

"That's why I wrote them a letter urging them to bring their jobs to Mississippi where we respect the constitutional right to keep and bear arms."

Comment at www.jfp.ms. Contact R.L. Nave at rlnave@jacksonfreepress.com.

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