House bickering, inaction may cost state jobs, money

Published 6:00 am Monday, November 22, 2004

They’re still at it.

After two weeks of hand-wringing and grandstanding over aneconomic development bond bill passed by the state Senate on thefirst day of the current special session, the House on Thursdaynight at last passed a bill of its own.

Done deal, right? Send them home, right?

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Not so fast.

In the House bill is language some – including Gov. HaleyBarbour –¬†find objectionable, a provision for minority set-asidesfor contracts in the state’s job-creation programs.

Barbour, viewing the set-asides as quotas, has vowed to veto thebill. He also cited the set-asides as “the real reason … behindthe House of Representatives’ irresponsible, nine-day delay” onpassing the bond bill.

House leaders defend their bill and accuse the governor oftrying to stir up racial animosity.

Whatever the reason for the delay, this much is certain: thecontentious, slow-moving session may very well have costMississippi jobs and money.

Northrop Grumman, the prime beneficiary of the governor’seconomic-development package, decided Tuesday not to expand itsshipbuilding operations on the Mississippi coast, citing theLegislature’s inability to pass the bond bill.

According to the governor, the number of potential jobs lostnumbers in the thousands.

No matter the political persuasions or social agendas of thepoliticians involved, it’s sad that our elected officials have letother issues cloud or even derail the future of economicdevelopment in our state.

Moreover, while the House bill does contain the $108 milliondollars for economic-development projects sought by Barbour, italso contains $109.5 million for university campus renovations, $50million for community colleges and $30 million as part of the Ayerscollege desegregation lawsuit settlement.

None of these extras was contained in the Senate bill. Thedifferences (both the extra projects and the language regardingminority set-asides) mean a conference committee comprising ahandful of members from each chamber must now iron out differencesin the bills.

After 10 days and $380,262, let us hope they can reach aconsensus quickly and send to the governor a palatable bill thatsatisfies the state’s economic needs without becoming mired inperipheral issues. With that behind them, then maybe legislatorscan adjourn the special session sometime before the next generalsession starts in January.