Hope and loathing for the Capitol Complex

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Former Jackson Mayor John Kane Ditto speaks about his support of the Capitol Complex bill.

People who live and work in the city of Jackson voiced their hopes for the creation of a Capitol Complex by the Legislature and their anxieties over last year’s failed effort.

The meeting was part of Kononia Coffeehouse’s Friday Forum in Jackson.

The Capitol Complex bill currently being considered would divert 12.5 percent of the city sales tax to a special fund that would finance infrastructure improvements in a designated area surrounding downtown Jackson. Last year, a similar bill failed to pass the Legislature over concerns about the city of Jackson’s participation in the proposed urban planning.

Former Jackson Mayor John Kane Ditto spoke Friday on the bill’s merits.

“This is one of the ways to get the state to help take care of their capitol city,” Ditto said. “With so much of the retail sales moving to Madison and Rankin counties, the city is getting less and less of a percentage of the retail sales. Even back when I was mayor in 1990, the need was very clear for cash flow to sustain the city.”

Ditto said it is in the state’s interest to  pass the legislation. Reinvesting in the capital city would protect the millions of dollars in prior investments in facilities like the soon-to-open Civil Rights Museum and the University Medical Center, he said.

“It’s hard to quantify the value of state property. Who knows what the state Capitol is worth, for instance,” Ditto said. “These are huge structures that simply cannot be replaced.”

Ditto also argued that improving the state’s capital improves the state’s perception in the eyes of travelers.

But even with this additional money diverted back to Jackson, Ditto warned that the future of the city’s infrastructure would depend on multiple revenue sources.

“Of course, as the city has grown there has been a greater need for resources for infrastructure,” Ditto said. “We have got to find several revenue sources to invest back into the city.”

The Senate has sent the bill to a committee for concurrence. In the committee, a single amended version of the bill will be agreed upon and then both chambers of the Legislature will have to vote on adopting the bill one last time.

Proponents estimate that the bill could mean an additional $20 million per year for the city’s crumbling roads, walk ways and water distribution system, which was shut down Friday in several parts of the city to fix water main breaks.

Walter Zinn was suspicious of the Capitol Complex legislation.

Many at the meeting remembered last April when the bill made its way out of the concurrence committee. The bill was changed to provide no direct appropriation, removed the Jackson City Council’s approval of the complex board’s plans and created a new judge for the area.

For Walter Zinn, it was hard to look at this bill as anything different.

“Power. That’s what it is about,” Zinn said. “What is it going to look like? Every time it came out of the process, it was doing something different than what they said it would do.”

Zinn said that it felt a disingenuous for the bill to fund only a section of the city. “You are telling me that you care, when you only care about the part of it you drive on,” Zinn said. “It’s impossible to think that even half of our infrastructure problems are all in the area the bill addresses.”

Born in Jackson and fresh back to the metro area from St. Louis, Melanie Barton said that infrastructure is what led to her decision to move into a house in Ridgeland as opposed to one in Jackson.

“When I moved back I didn’t even consider Jackson,” Barton said. “How can you get them to bring their families to invest with schools and roads like these. The question is what are they doing with money. And I just don’t think they’ve put it where they need to.”