Lawmaker defends local bond projects

Published 5:00 am Friday, May 27, 2005

Local lawmakers offered opposing views on an inflated economicdevelopment bond bill pending in the House of Representatives, withDistrict 53 Rep. Bobby Moak blasting criticism of projects heincluded for Brookhaven and Lincoln County.

The total $123 million bill includes $25,000 to the City ofBrookhaven for an outdoor amphitheater and $20,000 to LincolnCounty for sidewalk improvements in Bogue Chitto. Those and otherprojects in the bill have been called “pork” that House membersadded to Gov. Haley Barbour’s Momentum Mississippi legislation.

Moak defended their inclusion by pointing out the arts school, anew Mississippi Highway Patrol station, a new state transportationoffice and a variety of other projects that have been funded bystate bonds.

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“Those could have easily gone to other areas of the state orsouthwest Mississippi,” Moak said.

Moak questioned Barbour’s desire to have $27 million go to theMississippi Development Authority to spend with little or nooversight by the Legislature.

“To say everything else is totally off the table is wrong,” Moaksaid about the governor’s approach.

Moak predicted the dispute over the bond bill would be a”constitutional defining statement.” He said the question would bewhether the governor has the authority to dictate, without inputfrom other branches of government, what bond projects would bepursued.

“This bill is not so much about the projects in it,” Moak said.”It’s a constitutional issue. It’s a separation issue.”

Moak said he believes there is still room in the legislativeprocess for lawmakers to secure projects to benefit their areas ofthe state. He said the added projects should be considered on equalgrounds as those supported by the governor.

“I’m not going to apologize for projects that I put in that willbenefit my part of the state,” said Moak while also mentioning hispast support for water and sewer projects, the arts school, highwayprojects and others “which seem to have been forgotten now.”

While he voted for the legislation in support of economicdevelopment, District 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett labeled the overallbill “terrible.” He said he thinks the inclusion of the variousprojects was unconstitutional and outside the governor’s call.

“I’m sure some good projects were in there, but Mississippi isin a severe financial crisis,” Barnett said. “We are not in aposition to add these projects.”

Moak rejected any suggestion that the alleged pork projects wereincluded by House members as a way to kill the Momentum Mississippiinitiative.

“That’s totally incorrect,” said Moak, pointing that themajority of $123 million bill would go toward projects supported bythe governor.

Discussing the projects he included, Moak said the Bogue Chittosidewalk money could be used in conjunction with supervisors’efforts to complete a bridge under construction there.

“This would simply go to help with road issues involving thatbridge,” Moak said.

Moak defended his support of the amphitheater project for thecity.

“I believe it’s valid for that community in Brookhaven,” Moaksaid.

Mayor Bob Massengill, however, said this morning he was unawareof the amphitheater project.

“I’d love to know something about it,” Massengill said.

If the community believes the amphitheater project is notneeded, Moak said it could be removed. However, he questionedwhether in the future the community would be “selective” about whatprojects it wants the state to spend money on.

The bill, which passed Thursday, has been held on a motion toreconsider. Moak expected “close votes” on whether to accept themotion or table it and allow the bill to go to the Senate, whichhas approved a much smaller version of the legislation.

“This bill’s a long way from passage,” Moak said.