Mississippi Business and Legislative News from MEC’s Capital Day

MEC Capital Day gathering at the Jackson Marriot January 8, 2014The Mississippi Economic Council is the statewide chamber of commerce. It held its Capital Day on January 8th in Jackson. Business leaders and elected officials presented to a room full of the movers and shakers in the state’s business community. Governor Bryant’s presentation touted Mississippi’s business climate. Citing the trade publication Area Development Magazine (2012), Bryant said that the state is number 2 nationally for competitive utility costs and permitting speed, and second in the world for oil and gas investment according to Fraser Institute (2012). From my perspective of having served on the MDEQ Permit Board, and watched it operate for the past 10 years, it is no surprise that permits are granted quickly in Mississippi. In the case of the MDEQ Permit Board, the Governor appoints two of the members and the rest of them work for agencies in the executive branch. If the Board had a motto it would be “the Governor gets what the Governor wants.” He wants jobs. Clean water, air and land are not as important as jobs in Mississippi – that will remain true no matter who is Governor.Other speakers of note were our new state superintendent of education, Dr. Carey Wright, who told us that 12% of Mississippi high school graduates are “college ready” and that this costs the state dearly in the form of tens of millions of dollars worth of remedial (no credit) college courses. She and several other speakers highlighted a recent evaluation of Mississippi by Fitch and other bond rating agencies. Fitch looked at poverty and education levels in its state analysis, and noted the state’s dismal record. The link between schools and a decent workforce is on the minds of everyone in the business community. The State treasurer, Lynn Fitch, mentioned that one Bond rating agency gave the state’s AA bond rating a “negative watch” due to the use of one-time monies to patch budget needs for ongoing expenses and due to the state’s pension plan obligations. The state’s credit seems to be a little shaky. Several of the speakers cited success stories in Tennessee and North Carolina in the fields of education, and workforce training. Mississippi state government seems always to look outside- to watch other states for good programs to try. We don’t seem to come up with much on our own that is tailored to our unique gumbo of problems. The “farm what your neighbor farms” philosophy doesn’t work very well if your soil isn’t the same as his.Representative Angela Cockerham, co-chair of the House energy committee assured everyone that the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale formation is going to propel Mississippi into the front lines of oil and gas producers in the next few years. She represents southwest Miss. Counties where this geologic formation is found, and where hydraulic fracturing is being used to coax oil and gas from tight shale. She made no mention of the fact that the area isn’t very water rich or that fracking uses lots of water. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann wants to do something about state agency boards and commissions which he calls the fourth branch of government. Speaker of the House Philip Gunn wants to pay teachers more; and Lieutenant Governor Reeves wants to find (or force) efficiencies in government budgets. Everybody wants to make the state competitive. Some of the news was grim, but hope and energy for a new year and a new session infused all the speaker’s presentations.Andrew Whitehurst is GRN’s Water Policy Director and covers Mississippi water and wetland issues.

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