Wednesday, March 9, 2016
JACKSON Several parts of Jackson will benefit financially if a pair of bills the Mississippi Senate passed last week survives and becomes law. If successful, a new Capitol Complex Improvement District project would help fund development of a large section of downtown, as well as the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson State University, Fondren and Belhaven.
Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, explained in a phone interview Tuesday that the project would be funded out of tax dollars from the state's share of the sales tax revenue from the city. "The City of Jackson is going to get the same money it has always got. But the additional money which comes out of the state's share is going into this special fund for infrastructure around state property," he said.
The money will most likely be spent around state buildings, he said, hence the "Capitol Complex."
"We have a crisis with infrastructure. And a failure of infrastructure around state buildings where the state has a substantial investment is bad for the state," Blount said. "The state has an interest in seeing that the infrastructure around its buildings are well-maintained."
Mayor Tony Yarber heralded the move. "We applaud and are so grateful to our elected officials who saw past partisanship for the greater good of our entire state by making a move toward the much deserved investment in the infrastructure of our state Capital," he said in a statement.
The Senate version of the bill, SB 2525, would relegate the funds to very precise improvements, mostly involving infrastructure. The bill was clear that it would take place only on "public areas" including bridge construction and repair, water drainage systems, traffic and street lights, new water and sewer lines, as well as the ever-popular "street reconstruction, resurfacing, and repairs to roadways, curbs and gutters."
A five-member board of four appointees from the executive branch of the state government and one by the Jackson mayor would approve the fund allocations. Both the governor and the lieutenant governor each receive two appointees apiece, each to initially serve for three years.
The board will develop a plan for the project based on input from an advisory committee. That committee will provide the insight from the constituent area bounded in by the Capitol Complex district. While these 11 committee members may influence the final plan that the board develops, the City of Jackson, through the city council, will have final approval over any plan.
"The plan shall attempt to incorporate the needs of the City of Jackson, the Department of Finance and Administration, Jackson State University, the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Any plan adopted by the board must be approved by the governing authorities of the City of Jackson," the bill states.
The Jackson mayor would choose three members of the advisory committee, while the governor, the lieutenant governor and the House speaker would each have their own appointees.
Diverted tax revenue from the City of Jackson would pay for the improvements; however, only two members of the governing board are required to be from Hinds County, while the other three may be from Hinds, Rankin or Madison counties. Neither Rankin or Madison County has any land in the project area.
Kali Akuno, of the Coalition for Economic Justice and Cooperation Jackson, said both of these organizations are opposed to the bill.
"We are calling this the 'Downtown Annexation Bill,' because that is essentially what it amounts to," he said Tuesday. "If passed, this bill will give the governor control over the primary economic engines of the city (government, colleges and universities, and health care), which given the partisan and racially divided nature of Mississippi politics, will result in few of the 'improvement' contracts and the wealth generated from them, going to benefit black and other non-white contractors and workers."
Akuno said the bill would increase gentrification and displacement already occurring in the areas that benefit due to higher rents and taxes, and lead to "outright housing discrimination."
"This is exactly what has happened in other cities that have employed such schemes, like Austin, Texas," Akuno added. "SB 2525 is not designed to aid the existing residents of Jackson, it is designed to push impoverished black people out and replace them with an entirely new demographic with different class and racial interests."
Correction: The original version of the above story designation Sen. David Blount as a Republican. He is, in fact, a Democrat. We apologize for the error.