With little debate and no time for public input, the Mississippi Senate and House of Representatives passed $274 million in bonds alone to help two large-scale developments in the state during a one-day special session.
One of these is a large manufacturer in western Hinds County. The Jackson Free Press learned over a year ago that local and state economic-development officials were courting Continental Tire, but those involved were sworn to secrecy and would not confirm the development on the record. Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that Gov. Phil Bryant could call a special session to consider an incentive package for a major industrial project. The next day, The Clarion-Ledger reported that the deal was with Continental. Today, massive tax incentives and bonds are sailing through the Legislature for the project long hidden from the public, allowing no time for taxpayer input.
Two emails to Continental public-relations officials were not immediately returned; the Associated Press reported that Continental spokeswoman Kathryn Blackwell called the reports "speculation."
The other project is a shipyard in Gulfport. Together, the two would create 3,500 jobs. In Hinds County it would mean 2,500 jobs by 2022. The Gulfport shipyard project would create 1,000 jobs by the end of 2018. The average annual salary of the jobs will be $40,000.
With the two projects combined, Mississippi taxpayers will spend $78,285.71 for each job the projects would create.
Gov. Phil Bryant called for a special session of the Legislature on Wednesday, and the House Ways and Means Committee met early this morning to pass the bill on to the House floor. The chairman of the committee, Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, told his committee that timing on passing the legislation is important because of contracts that need to be signed with the companies on Monday.
Rep. Deborah Dixon, D-Raymond, whose district includes the Hinds County site, said she was involved in talks for the past two years. "I appreciate getting it in my district because overall I have never had anything in my district," Dixon told the Jackson Free Press. "I need jobs in my area."
The governor and the Mississippi Development Authority have all been in discussions with the companies since 2014, House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said today.
The committee amended the bill to include provisions for contractors and "Disadvantaged Business Enterprises" in the area to bid on construction work for the tire plant in Hinds County.
The 196-page bill passed the House 118-3. Rep. Joel Bomgar, R-Madison, was among three Republicans who voted no on the measure.
The bill states the manufacturer must create 500 jobs by 2019; otherwise, the state can void the contract and get all the money back, Smith told the House. In the Ways and Means Committee meeting, Smith said at the plant's workforce would reflect Hinds County demographics and employ a majority of "minority" workers.
On Jan. 18, the Hinds County Board of Supervisors voted to rezone 264 acres to increase the buffer zone between the site of a yet-to-be-unveiled facility and homes. Under the agreement, $20 million would go back to the Hinds County Board of Supervisors, and the Clinton Public School District would receive $951,000 for their land loss.
Gov. Phil Bryant's office had to file documents with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because the site would affect more than 115 acres of wetlands. Those plans called for a 5.2-million-square-foot industrial building and operations space on 640 acres of what was 16th-section land in an unincorporated area of the county.
Mississippi's taxpayers have directly invested $377.8 million worth of incentives in Nissan's 3.5-million-square-foot facility in Madison County. That sum includes $363 million paid up front to help Nissan with construction costs.
In 2011, the state gave Nissan another $7.3 million for infrastructure-related expenses to move the Frontier pickup and Xterra sport-utility models to Mississippi from Smyrna, Tenn.
Then, in June 2012, state officials announced another major expansion for which the state would kick in another $7.5 million, growing the plant to 4.2 million square feet on 1,034 acres.
In 2013, the Legislature gave another $330 million in tax breaks to Yokohama Tires for a facility in West Point. The next year, Mississippi offered Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. $20 million over three years.
Read more about the mix of bonds and tax incentives.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the Legislature passed $274 million in tax breaks; it should have said the Legislature passed $274 million in bonds. The Associated Press has reported that the Continental Tire plant is worth $600 million in total incentives. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.