A large chunk of Jackson would become an improvement district under a bill that passed the Mississippi House of Representatives yesterday. An oversight committee would improve work within the district, of which only 10 percent would legally have to go to minority contractors.
Senate Bill 2525 outlines an area of the capital city that extends west from downtown as far as Jackson State University, north to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and including parts of Belhaven and Fondren to the east. The Legislature would allot an estimated $21 million that would come out of sales tax collected in the capital city that would normally allotted to the state.
A five-member board would decide the projects to fund. The governor and lieutenant governor would get two appointments each, and the mayor of Jackson would get one.
Critics of the district worry that it is another state takeover of Jackson property in the same session that the State is trying to take control of the airport. Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, pushed back on that complaint. "I'm not sure that the City of Jackson is surrendering a whole lot," Smith said.
"(The district) would allow the State of Mississippi to … repave the streets, it will allow us to do infrastructure work, it will allow us, and I mean the state of Mississippi rather than being the city's responsibility, … to hopefully take an area that cannot be repaired under the existing budget and give it new life," Smith continued.
Smith said that the City "has not been able to take care of this area in years. So, he said, the State needs to step in. "We are taking over, as a state, areas that are not revenue-producing, and we hope we can make them look like they need to be. No one is saying the city is negligent. The City of Jackson does not have the money to do it," he said.
Rep. Kathy Sykes, D-Hinds County, was interested in which body—the board or the Jackson City Council—would control the money and who gets to do the work. "I represent most of the area in the capitol district," Sykes said. "Would the commission have control of the contracts to make the improvements in the district?"
"If the money for the improvements will be repaid by the state, the advisory commission will be in charge of the contracts," Smith answered.
Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, wanted to ensure minority participation in those contracts.
Smith confirmed, though, that the bill did not address the demographics of contractors. "It doesn't directly say it," Smith said, before referring to legislative rules that require 10 percent of state contracts go to minorities.
Several local politicians including the mayor and author of the original Senate bill, Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, support the bill.
"We applaud and are so grateful to our elected officials who saw past partisanship for the greater good of our entire state by making a move toward the much deserved investment in the infrastructure of our state Capital," Mayor Tony Yarber said in a statement when the bill passed the Senate.
"It is our capital city. We want the people to come here and feel good. I feel good right now being in Jackson, but some people are a little afraid of Jackson. We know that there is no reason for that. It's a wonderful capital city. We are going to make sure with this that everyone knows that."
Others, though, push back on the idea that the State should control parts of the capital city.
Kali Akuno, of the Coalition for Economic Justice and Cooperation Jackson, said earlier that both of those organizations opposed to the bill.
"We are calling this the 'Downtown Annexation Bill,' because that is essentially what it amounts to," he told the Jackson Free Press. "If passed, this bill will give the governor control over the primary economic engines of the city (government, colleges and universities, and health care), which given the partisan and racially divided nature of Mississippi politics, will result in few of the 'improvement' contracts and the wealth generated from them, going to benefit black and other non-white contractors and workers."
"SB 2525 is not designed to aid the existing residents of Jackson, it is designed to push impoverished black people out and replace them with an entirely new demographic with different class and racial interests," Akuno added.
The bill now goes to the governor for signature.
Email city reporter Tim Summers, Jr. at [email protected] See more local news at jfp.ms/localnews.