Historic tax credit bill heads to House

Published 10:11 am Thursday, March 17, 2016

A bill that will extend tax credits that proponents say have been instrumental in revitalizing cities like Brookhaven passed the Senate Wednesday and will now go to the House.

State Senate Bill 2922, which extends the Historic Tax Credit and MS Small Business Investment Act cap to $100 million after its previous cap of $60 million was reached will go the House where it faces an  April 5 deadline for a vote.

Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, said the tax credits have been key to Brookhaven’s downtown.

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An amendment to the bill that would end the “cultural retail” program was adopted. The program provides a subsidy that reimburses up to 30 percent of development costs for shopping centers.

While a bill allowing online auctions for tax forfeited property was passed in the Senate, Doty said the bill was unlikely to pass in the House.

“Since that time more information has become available regarding its impact in other states,” Doty said. “With online auctions, out of state investors are much more likely to purchase properties solely as investments with no intent to maintain the property. Without further information it appears that allowing online auctions may lead to dilapidated or overgrown properties that would be a nuisance to our communities. The bill is now in the House and support for the bill seems to have faded.”

The Senate also passed SB 2921, a placeholder bill Doty said will allow negotiations between the House and Senate regarding money for infrastructure improvement to continue.

The measure now moves to the House for more work, but it’s unlikely details would be fully fleshed out until after House and Senate negotiators meet toward the end of the session. Lawmakers are trying to balance competing demands including tax cuts, more funding for roads and bridges and slowing state revenue growth.

Supporters said the most important thing was for lawmakers to keep their options open while negotiators meet. But it could be rewritten to include tax and fee increases or borrowing. Other tax cut proposals and the Legislature’s annual bond bill to borrow money for universities, colleges and state agencies could also be rolled in to attract support.

“It may be close,” Doty said. “I plan on supporting the bill as I do not want to prematurely cut off negotiations between the two houses.”

Mississippi Department of Transportation Executive Director Melinda McGrath has said an additional $526 million a year is needed to repair more than one-third of highways and nearly one-fourth of bridges. The Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, has called for a funding increase of $300 million yearly for state roads and bridges and $75 million combined for cities and counties

Legislators last approved a major increase in transportation funding in 1987.

Opponents, though, say lawmakers shouldn’t be forced to make one take-it-or-leave-it vote on such an important issue, and some say cutting other spending would be a better option. Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, likened the bill to an empty suitcase, saying conference committee negotiators could send it back at the end of the session stuffed not only with goodies but tax increases that he said would be like lugging around bowling balls, snakes and an albatross.

The bill passed with 34 in favor and 13 against.

Senate Bill 2859, which would have increased the fuel tax, died in committee Wednesday. Senate Highway and Transportation Committee Chairman Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, said the proposal would have generated about $441 million a year.