A section in the City of Jackson is about to get a $21 million boost of sales tax money to help fund infrastructure improvements in the Capitol area.
“(The Capitol Complex legislation) would be for the first time the state acknowledged that it is also responsible for infrastructure upkeep and maintenance,” said Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, co-author of the Senate bill.
In a statement, Mayor Tony Yarber said, “The State’s willingness to share the unique responsibilities associated with a State’s Capital is a laudable effort that will aid in shoring up the stability of central Mississippi and help to spur future opportunities for economic growth across the State.”
Under consideration are bills that would create the “Capitol Complex Improvement District,” an area that stretches west of the Pearl River and east of Bailey Avenue with a few plots that include Jackson State University, the Jackson Medical Mall, Mississippi School for the Deaf, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, LeFleur’s Bluff State Park, and the heart of the Fondren retail area.
The complex would be supervised by a five-member board of directors. The governor would appoint two members, the lieutenant governor would appoint two members and the mayor of Jackson would appoint one member. At least two of the five members must be residents of Hinds County. The other members could come from Rankin, Madison or Hinds counties.
The legislation would annually divert an additional 12.5 percent of local sales tax revenue to the fund managed by the Capitol Complex’s board of directors. The legislation also gives the board the ability to borrow, under state authority, up to 25 percent of its improvement fund in a fiscal year.
The complex’s board would draft an infrastructure repair plan with the guidance of an advisory committee. The board’s final plan could involve any number of improvements to roads, drainage systems, water and sewer lines and buildings within the Capitol Complex area.
“Jackson will continue to receive all the money that it receives in sales tax collected within the city,” Blount said. “This is new money—additional money that would be spent within the city infrastructure and under the direction of the board of directors.”
If the bill passes in its current form, the Mississippi Department of Revenue estimated that the additional sales tax proceeds coming to the Capitol Complex’s improvement fund would total just over $21 million annually. Of that amount, approximately $3 million would go directly to the city to compensate for police and fire protection services that the city provides to the Capitol Complex area.
The extra money is seen by many as a boon to the city. After decades of declining population, Jackson has had difficulty finding the funds to invest in infrastructure projects. But with the bill still working its way through a conference committee, even sponsors wonder if it will resemble what they filed.
The primary sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, is concerned about language that was removed from his bill: “The house stripped out language in my bill that called for the state to follow the city’s (Equal Business Opportunity) guidelines which ensures minority participation … It is critical to be in the language of the bill.”
Horhn also said that the composition of the board of directors might skew towards needs of the suburbs rather than those who live in the city.
Last year on Nov. 3, the City of Jackson Council approved the Capitol Complex as part of their 2016 legislative agenda, but some council members remain skeptical of some provisions in the legislation.
Councilman De’Keither Stamps, Ward 4, is concerned that up to five percent of the improvement funds could go towards administration, noting that could mean $1.2 million spent on additional staff.
“I’d rather they put that money directly into the (city’s) public-works department because that’s real staff,” Stamps said. “We need more folks doing the work.”
Blount responded: “The simplest, most direct method would be for the state to give the money to the City of Jackson, but the current political leadership of the state is unwilling to do that.”
The Coalition for Economic Justice, a joint formation of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Cooperation Jackson, and the Jackson Human Rights Initiative, came out against the Capitol Complex bills because of the strings that the additional money comes with. Akil Bakari, coalition spokesperson, said this is part of a larger trend in dealing with the city.
“We are not opposed to any extra funding for the City of Jackson, but the state of Mississippi has always had an ultimate agenda for the City of Jackson, particularly for the past roughly 20 years, where you’ve had a black mayor and majority black city council,” he said.
For Bakari, the issue is that the money comes with a board of directors that drafts the plan for improvement projects. Blount defended the bill pointing out that the city council has to approve the final plan.
“This is nothing like the airport bill (creating a regional airport authority that replaces Jackson’s management of the airport),” Blount said. “This does not take property. This is new money and investment in addition to the money that already goes to the city. It doesn’t change the ownership of property.”