The opening of the Outlets of Mississippi comes on the heels of Governor Phil Bryant's budget recommendation for the 2015 fiscal year.
Photo by Trip Burns
One day after Gov. Phil Bryant released his $6.1 billion state budget—which he brags reflect priorities of "spending prudently, saving for the future and prioritizing the core functions of government"—Bryant helped cut the ribbon on a retail development built in part with state taxpayer money.
The Outlets of Mississippi, a retail shopping center located near Interstate 20 in Pearl, opened this morning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that Bryant and other officials attended.
In the past legislative session, lawmakers gave $24 million in tax credits to the developers of 325,000-square-foot shopping center. The development was stalled until Mississippi taxpayers bailed out Spectrum Capital, the Yates Cos. affiliate that built the $175 million development along Interstate 20 that includes the mall, the Mississippi Braves' Trustmark Park, a Bass Pro Shops store, hotels and restaurants.
The state will give Spectrum 80 percent of sales taxes collected at the mall, up to $24 million, or 30 percent of the construction price. Spectrum President Jason Voyles told the Associated Press that developers project 20 percent of shoppers will come from outside Mississippi, and the mall would create 1,600 jobs. He points to the Mississippi theme woven through the mall, including a soundtrack of state musicians, a visitor center including crafts for sale, and a giant stone map of the state blues trail and country music trail.
"We're not aware of another project that truly combines the tourism and shopping experience," Voyles said while giving a tour to reporters Wednesday. "We think it's a fairly innovative approach."
Part of that innovation included contributing to the reelection campaigns of key state figures. Voyles is a son-in-law of Bill Yates Jr., who heads Yates, Mississippi's largest construction firm. The company and family are large donors to Republican causes, giving $145,000 to state GOP candidates in 2010 and 2011, according to the National Institute for Money in State Politics. That includes more than $50,000 to Bryant and $30,000 to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the AP found.
The state began subsidizing retailers when it approved the Bass Pro/Trustmark Park combination for rebates, paying $12.4 million through 2012. Developers are eligible for $17.8 million over 10 years. Since the rebates were created in 2009, $17 million has been paid to six developments.
The opening of the outlet center comes on the heels of Bryant's budget recommendation for the 2015 fiscal year.
"This balanced budget funds Mississippi's highest priorities—investing in our children by continuing to improve our education outcomes, protecting public safety, continuing our economic development efforts and ensuring the basic function of critical government systems," Bryant said Wednesday.
The investments of which Bryant speaks include a "targeted" 1 percent increase in K-12 education funding, driven by a $22,418,838 boost in the K-12 budget. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which is supposed to guide education spending, received level-funding from previous years, meaning schools will be short about $250,000 next year. Even though the Legislature is supposed to use the MAEP formula to pay for schools, lawmakers have consistently failed to fully fund the program.
Not surprisingly, Bryant's budget does not include funding for Medicaid expansion, which the Affordable Care Act permits states to do, but to which Bryant has objected. Bryant's budget does include a 5.4 percent increase for the Department of Medicaid, mostly due to adding $4.4 million for the state reimbursement for "disproportionate share" payments to cover the costs of uninsured people. Hospitals lost these payments under Obamacare hoping that more Medicaid patients would help make up the losses.
Bryant's budget does give significant increases to some agencies. Following through on his promise to promote a criminal-justice reform agenda in the next session, which starts in January, Bryant wants use $2 million to beef up local prosecutors' offices, and he wants to give the Mississippi Department of Corrections an 8.3 percent increase as well as $22.4 million to cover the current budget year's shortfall.
In addition, Bryant proposes $70 million in capital improvements around the state, the first step in a five-year plan to make renovations to state buildings.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.