Are ulterior motives at play in move?Published 12:08am Friday, February 22, 2013
Mississippi legislators aren’t playing with Monopoly money.
The money that flows into the state coffers comes from hard-working Mississippians who pay their taxes hoping that their money will be spent wisely and with serious consideration.
Rep. Sam Mims, the conservative standard bearer of Southwest Mississippi preaches the conservative line about the importance of prudence, planning and cutting the size of government. He has offered the good news of conservativism since his election in 2004 when Democrats were firmly in control of the House.
“We can only appropriate money that the taxpayers send us,” Mims has been fond of saying at legislative breakfasts and business club meetings throughout Natchez.
Mims represents House District 97, which includes portions of Adams County.
At every opportunity, Mims makes a point of telling voters that he takes spending their money with great seriousness. From his first day in office his message has been consistent and strong. He is for reducing taxes and reducing public and corporate welfare.
“When I go to Jackson, I realize whose money I’m spending,” Mims told the Natchez Rotary Club in 2009. “It’s not play money; It’s your money.”
That is why the vote Mims cast in favor of re-locating the State Department of Revenue to the former WorldCom Headquarters in Clinton has me scratching my head.
Mims voted with 70 other legislators to lease or purchase the building without knowing how much it costs or where the legislature will find the money to pay for the deal.
This is despite the fact that the Landmark building in Jackson had already been identified by state-hired consultants as the best site for the move — a move that would not only save the state money but also allow the state to consolidate state agencies in one location, make government work more efficiently and help revitalize downtown Jackson. The move to the Landmark building had been endorsed by former Gov. Haley Barbour when he was in office.
Last year when the Senate voted unanimously to make the move to the Landmark building, the asking price of building was set at about $14 million. Since then it has been reduced to $7.6 million. That’s a bargain at half the original price tag,
Despite the fact that the former WorldCom building may cost the state up to $75 million, house speaker Phillip Gunn says it’s the right move. The old WorldCom headquarters sits in the middle of his district and could bring 500 additional jobs to his constituents.
“I represent the people of Clinton, and they sent me here to look out for their interests,” Gunn said in response to questions about the deal.
Mims must feel the same way, even though the Landmark deal, according to a Millsaps College study, would save the state $30 million over 20 years by consolidating agency locations.
Now that Republicans are firmly in control, politics clearly trumps the conservative line. Why else would Mims and his fellow Republicans vote to increase the size of government in the face of proposals that would help taxpayers save money?
Why would Republicans vote to spend 10 times the asking price of the Landmark building, just to please the Speaker of the House?
Why would Republicans vote for a proposal without knowing from where the money was coming?
At the same time, the legislature is quibbling over bond bills, the future of Medicare and education.
It may not be Monopoly money, but when it comes to moving the State Department of Revenue, it sounds like more than toeing the conservative line is at play.
Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.