State borrows nearly $400 million from taxpayers

By Steve Wilson
April 1, 2019

Before the Mississippi legislature left town Friday as the session came to a close, it added $371 million in debt in the form of a large bond bill and several other bond bills for various projects.

Senate Bill 3065 adds up to about $207 million in additional spending that includes $85 million in borrowing for projects for the state’s universities, $25 million in projects at community colleges and $63 million for restoration of historic buildings statewide.

The House and Senate both signed off the compromise on Thursday and the bill needs only Gov. Phil Bryant’s signature to become law.

In a stunning admission while presenting the bill’s conference report, state Rep. Jeff Smith (R-Columbus) said that many of the projects were for “trying to help members that are going to have tough races.”

“We had some big-ticket items and this was the most for the IHL (Institutes for Higher Learning) that we’ve ever had,” said Smith, who is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “Overall, this bill smells good.”

The “Christmas tree” bond bill isn’t the only bit of largesse being put on the taxpayers’ credit card.

There was also $86 million in projects for the Mississippi Development Authority, $12.5 million to help with the construction of the Mississippi Center for Medically Fragile Children, $7.94 million for the Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund and $3.5 million for improvements at Lauderdale County’s industrial park. All were signed into law by Bryant this week.

Bryant also signed House Bill 983 into law on Thursday. This law will give Huntington Ingalls Industries $45 million from state bonds.

The bill says the funds are for capital improvements, investments and upgrades for the shipyard, part of a three-year deal to help Huntington Ingalls.

It’s not the first time for Huntington Ingalls receiving money from state taxpayers, as the state has borrowed $307 million for Ingalls improvements since 2004. The company was awarded $9.8 billion in new contracts in 2018 and was just given a $1.48 billion contract Tuesday for the 14thSan Antonio class amphibious dock ship for the Navy.

Huntington Ingalls Industries received $45 million from taxpayers in 2018, $45 million in 2017, $45 million in 2016, $20 million in 2015, $56 million in 2008, $56 million in 2005 and $40 million in 2004.

The company leases the land for its Pascagoula shipyard from the state and is exempt from property taxes. It is one of south Mississippi’s largest employers, with 11,000 workers.

In addition to the San Antonioclass, Huntington Ingalls’ Pascagoula yard builds Arleigh Burkeclass destroyers, Americaclass amphibious warfare ships and the Legend class national security cutter for the U.S. Coast Guard.

The state already owes more than $4.441 billion in bond debt and legislators appropriated more than $285 million for debt service for fiscal 2020, which begins on July 1.

The legislature will also borrow $300 million for infrastructure needs under a deal reached in the 2018 special session.


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