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Congressman stresses unity to build strong communities

Third District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering Thursday toutedMississippi’s and this area’s opportunities for growth but alsostressed a need for leadership unity and planning.

“We have great promise and potential here in Brookhaven andLincoln County,” Pickering said while speaking at theBrookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce’s QuarterlyMembership Breakfast.

Following his re-election last year, Pickering was making hisfirst official speech in Brookhaven as its congressman. TheRepublican defeated former Fourth District Rep. Ronnie Shows in thenewly-redrawn Third District.

Pickering said the southeastern United States is the fastestgrowing region of the country, with an estimated 40 percent of thepopulation expected to be living in the area in 30 years. Thatpresents tremendous opportunities, he said.

“Mississippi is in the heart and center of that,” Pickeringsaid.

Capitalizing on that potential, though, requires unity andcooperation among federal, state and local leaders, Pickering said.Also necessary is a sound plan for economic development.

“That is a critical component and intangible component inhelping communities prosper and succeed,” said Pickering, who wasalso attending an open house for his field office at the chamber ofcommerce building later Thursday morning.

Pickering also discussed a variety of legislation that ispending in Congress.

In addition to Homeland Security concerns, Pickering saidofficials are working on a new budget and setting spendingpriorities. One of those is a tax relief package to help improve astruggling economy.

Pickering predicted passage of a $350 to $500 billion tax reliefbill this year. He said that would help keep or return dollars tocitizens instead of the government.

“That can be used to save, to consume and to invest to get theeconomy going again,” Pickering said.

Pickering also mentioned pending action on a prescription drugbenefit to help provide quality and affordable health care and workon a new energy bill.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Pickering said.

Additional funding for county road and bridge work was on themind of District 2 Supervisor Bobby J. Watts. He estimated it wouldcost $48 million to repair all county roads.

“We need help,” said Watts, adding that county bridges are alsoin poor shape.

Pickering said another priority this year is a new highway bill.The highway bill is taken up about every five years and establishesfederal funding levels for states.

“What we hope to do is give Mississippi more funds,” Pickeringsaid.

Mississippi is currently considered a “donor state,” meaning itpays more in federal fuel taxes than it receives back from thegovernment. The last highway bill raised the state’s returnpercentage from around 80 cents on every dollar to around 90 cents,and funding rose from $200 million a year to $330 million.

“We hope to get that up to at least 95 percent this year,”Pickering said.

Another aspect of that funding is more directions to states onhow to spend the money, Pickering said. That would allow more fundsto reach the local level.

“We need to make sure you have the resources and level offunding so you can do your jobs,” Pickering said.

Pickering was also asked about his father Charles’ federal courtjudge appointment. The younger Pickering said a Senate committeehearing is expected around May, and he was confident there areenough committee votes to recommend the nomination.

However, Chip Pickering said the question would then be whetherDemocrats would filibuster. He said Pickering supporters areworking to get enough votes to stop a filibuster should onedevelop.

“We hope to see justice done some time in May or June,” saidPickering, adding that he appreciated the support his father hadreceived across the state.

On a final question about the economy, Pickering discussedefforts to work with community colleges, business and local leadersto develop work force training in an effort to keep jobs fromleaving and to attract more to the state.

“We’re doing everything we can to try and accomplish a lot ofthose objectives,” Pickering said.