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Area lawmakers back ‘Advantage Mississippi’

Area legislators preparing for a special session Monday allstand in support of the governor’s Advantage Mississippi Initiativeand are cautiously optimistic about its passage.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who initiated the bill, was in BrookhavenFriday morning to meet with legislators and local businessmen toencourage support.

“I was impressed by the presentation this morning,” saidDistrict 92 Rep. Dr. Jim C. Barnett.

The governor’s proposal allows for city or county leaders toimpose a 1.5 percent sales tax in addition to the 7 percent statetax to generate money for economy-related projects — if theyreceive approval from the Mississippi Department of Economic andCommunity Development before offering it as a referendum vote. Now,the Mississippi Legislature decides local-option sales taxissues.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted Thursday to bring thebill to the floor, but made several changes. One change restrictedthe local tax increase to a maximum of 1 percent.

“I think the Ways and Means Committee has met a lot of theconcerns of some of us,” said District 97 Rep. Clem Nettles.

Barnett, Nettles, District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak and District 91Rep. Joey Hudson all agreed that overall the bill is good one withpromise of having a strong positive impact on the state’s economicdevelopment opportunities.

“I feel like overall it’s a good plan and a bold initiative,”Hudson said. “I admire the governor for trying to do something andproposing something like this.”

Nettles said the state needed to progress in this area quicklyand decisively.

“We need to do everything we can to boost our economicdevelopment,” he said. “If we have any roadblocks we need to removethem.”

There are some questions remaining to be answered, Hudson said,but he likes the bill and believes it would be especiallybeneficial in areas of high unemployment.

Barnett said several legislators, however, are prepared to standagainst the bill.

“It may have some trouble passing. It’s not a shoo-in by anymeans,” he cautioned. “I’ll support it as it stands now and make afinal decision after the debate.”

Moak said the part of the bill that may save it is thereferendum vote, which requires a majority vote of 60 percent forthe tax to go into effect for a specific project. Once the projectis paid for, the tax would be automatically repealed.

“You can’t just put it on there without a specific projectoutlined for the public to vote on,” Hudson explained.

“Clearly, that will be the one part that allows this bill tosink or swim,” Moak said. “There are some people (in thelegislature) who do not want to give up that authority. I amwilling as a legislator to pass that back to the localadministrators. I like this process a lot better.”