JACKSON The year 2017 may be the charm for Jackson, at least when it comes to getting upward of $20 million a year from the State of Mississippi to help repair crumbling infrastructure around where lawmakers and most state workers drive, meet, dine and debate for four months a year, give or take a special session or two.
On Wednesday with Mayor Tony Yarber sitting in the gallery, the Mississippi House and the Senate passed a final Capitol Complex Improvement District legislation, House Bill 1226 after it emerged from the final conference process, and with an additional strip of east Fondren added to the top of an earlier House map. As of Tuesday, six lawmakers had to decide on the final wording before it goes back to both the House and the Senate for final votes. The deadline for it to come back for a vote is Thursday, but lawmakers are moving than that, amid talk at the Capitol that legislators plan to end early this session, possibly today.
Efforts to convince the Mississippi Legislature to kick in dollars to help Jackson have failed in previous legislation sessions, including at the last hour last year.
But this may be the year that changes. "We are continuing to negotiate on this important bill. The state should help w(ith) infrastructure around state-owned buildings," Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, tweeted Tuesday morning.
The legislation, as drafted, says the State will divert 12-1/2 percent of the total sales tax collected inside Jackson to the Capitol Complex fund; 15 percent of that amount would compensate Jackson for police and fire protection within the district. The House language states that no less than 95 percent of the fund must be used for improvement projects and police/fire protection.
One sticking point has long been the size of the district itself and what areas of the city are included. This year's House map included downtown Jackson near the Capitol down to South Street and east to the Pearl River. The northern part covers the Fondren business district up to Mitchell Avenue and east to Ridgewood Road. The House lines include very little of west Jackson, save the area around Jackson State University, and none of south Jackson.
Mayor Yarber said in an interview last week that he is fine with a district that only includes some of Jackson because that allows the City to retain more resources for areas of the city not included in the Capitol district. "The sticking point right now has to do with the boundaries," he said March 24. "The Senate wants to remove the boundaries; the House version keeps their version.
"I'm fine with the House version," Yarber continued. "Even if there are boundaries, what it gives me the opportunity to do is not worry about what's inside the boundaries. We can worry about what's outside the boundaries."
Another question has been over who would oversee the funds and how they are spent within the district. Typically for commissions appointed to govern funds involving Jackson, the House originally required that only two of the five members of the commission be from the capital city itself, with the other three appointments would be allowed to come from the larger metropolitan area.
The Senate then changed the language to say that the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration would oversee the project, with an advisory committee offering suggestions.
Lawmakers must hammer out those disagreements in order for the district to happen.
"With this next effort with the Capitol City complex and infrastructure fund, we want the State to finally take responsibility, direct responsibility, for a lot of the infrastructure around this $5.6 billion worth of real estate in state-owned buildings that are not subject to taxation," Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, recently told the Jackson Free Press.
Horhn has helped push for similar legislation in recent years and is now running for mayor against Yarber and other candidates.
Yarber is confident that the district will happen, saying his staff has devoted significant lobbying time to the effort. "The fact that only six people oppose the House version—that's a lot to say about what hasn't been able to be done in Jackson in a long time," Yarber said last week.
Read the bill as it stands now. It next goes to Gov. Phil Bryant for signature.
Follow editor-in-chief Donna Ladd at @donnerkay. Read city election coverage and candidate interviews at jfp.ms/election2017
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