March 1, 2016
Feb. 4 was an exciting day at the State Capitol building; even the Mississippi Economic Council showed up for the occasion handing out stickers to lawmakers that said “Let’s do it.” In this case, the “it” was an economic incentive bill that included a $254,000,000 check and millions of dollars of tax breaks to two unnamed corporations. The Chairman of the House Ways and Means committee Jeff Smith said, perhaps less hyperbolic than we think, that he would be “shot” if he named the corporations in the bills. This special session of the Legislature convened by the Governor met at 8 a.m. and concluded a little after 1 p.m. The Mississippi House of Representatives Ways and Means committee and its Senate counterpart, the Senate Finance committee, discussed this economic incentive bill which included giving $243,000,000 to a corporation to build a tire plant in Hinds County, known as Project Potter. On top of the money the state would give for the tire plant, Hinds County would contribute an additional $20,000,000. Taking the advice of Governor Phil Bryant and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves most of the legislators were happy to vote for the bill with most of them not even reading the 200 page bill.
Only six Legislators voted against this bill. After the bill passed through the House by 10:00 a.m. it got a myriad a questions in the Senate Finance Committee from Senator Hob Bryan. He asked a particularly poignant question during the debate in his committee: “Is there any amount of money we will not pay someone to come and put something in Mississippi? Are there any parameters?” It appears as though there is no amount of money too great to bring jobs to the state. It was even unknown by the state economist how much all the tax breaks would cost the state. The ramifications of this project were ignored by the vast majority of the state legislature. Two-time District 1 congressional candidate and leader of the Mississippi Libertarian party Danny Bedwell has been an outspoken critic of the deal and thought the “legislators ran on platforms of transparency… slipped this through without any chance to review it by the public.” Later on that day, it would actually be announced which company the state was giving this money to: Continental Tire Corporation.
It was discovered that Clinton would play host of this venture, prompting wide praise and the raising of Continental Tire’s banner all around the city. While bringing many jobs to the state it seems as though this deal, in the opinion of this writer, is bad for Mississippi. Governor Phil Bryant has described Mississippi as a “hunter” state. Scanning the globe and searching for corporations to lure to our multimillion dollar proverbial salt lick. Instead of investing in Mississippi businesses, recent Mississippi College graduate and former House of Representatives candidate Wesley Wilson believes that “to give this multimillion dollar corporation such an unfair advantage not only contradicts the free market, but is a slap in the face to every taxpayer.” Taxpayers will in fact bear the brunt of this job making plan, with each job costing taxpayers $78,000 according to the Jackson Free Press.
It would be wiser and more advantageous for Mississippi to invest in business already in the state. Hinds County should not be giving $20,000,000 to any corporation when there’s a boil water notice almost every other day in the county, and the roads are nearly impassable in some places. Mississippi needs to invest in its own citizens and infrastructure before giving out millions of dollars to corporations. Millennials are leaving the state in droves; perhaps the money would be better spent in finding jobs for college graduates. At the end of the day, handing millions of dollars to corporations in exchange for a handful of jobs to go on politician’s political resume is not helpful to the state. Continental Tire is not a magical fix-all for the economic problems in Hinds County. If legislators wish to be fiscally conservative, maybe they should seek to stop funding corporate welfare.
-Jerry Ainsworth, Contributing Writer
this article appeared in Vol. 97, Issue 9 of The Mississippi Collegian