Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba says he has found a way around the sales-tax commission issue, which has kept the city leaders from putting a 1-percent sales tax to a vote for years.
The commission, which the city, state-level leaders and the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership would appoint, has been a bitter pill Jackson leaders did not want to swallow.
Lumumba now says he has negotiated a way the city can move forward on a vote without losing control of the spending process.
"I think I can publicly say that the solution we've come up with is the (Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership) has agreed to let us appoint their members to the commission," Lumumba said last week. "It's not perfect, but it would give us a majority on the commission."
Jackson voters spoke loud and clear on giving up Jackson's sovereignty over its tax dollars and resources earlier this year, when Lumumba defeated businessman Jonathan Lee in the race to become mayor.
Lee took an aggressive stance on regionalism, proposing that Jackson sell off some of its equity in its water-treatment facilities and, most importantly, pass a 1-percent sales tax increase in the city with the state-mandated commission in place.
"We can be right," Lee famously said, "or we can be happy."
Lumumba shared then-incumbent Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr.'s position that the commission, as mandated by state law, was a slap in the face to Jackson's leadership. But faced with steep spending increases to meet the challenges of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's consent decree and Jackson's crumbling roads, Lumumba needs the revenue that 1-percent tax would generate. He mentioned it twice in the past month during budget hearings, saying Jackson will need to pass the 1-percent tax if it hopes to avoid future rate increases on water and sewer bills.
Mississippi Senate Bill 2389 mandates that a "local" chamber of commerce gets to appoint four members of the 10-member commission. Although the four members must own businesses within the city, they do not have to be residents. Mississippi's governor, lieutenant governor and its speaker of the state House of Representatives each get to appoint a single member to the commission, giving Jackson's mayor the power to appoint the three remaining members. Under that makeup, the city could find itself in the minority to say how to spend its own citizen's tax revenue.
The law also requires that the commission establish a master plan for all streets, roads, sewage and drainage repair.
In the past, Lumumba, who represented Ward 2 on the Jackson City Council at the time the state Legislature passed the bill, took a hard stance against the establishment of the commission as the law mandates.
"The principle is that the people should decide." Lumumba said in a May 25, 2011, Jackson Free Press story. When he addressed the JFP editorial board in June 2013, Lumumba agreed with Johnson's plan to convince the GJCP to allow Jackson to appoint its members to the board, with reservations.
"I think that may be our second best option, but still it begs the question," Lumumba said.
"The state constitution and state laws give the power to determine the budget and how the money is spent to the city council, and when you take that power to give it to another body, you're depriving the people that the population elects to do their task. I don't think that's done in most places in the state, and it shouldn't be done in Jackson."
GJCP Chief Executive Officer Duane O'Neill did not return phone calls by press time.