Gov. Tate Reeves, in a letter he released to the public Monday, disputed the notion that the state government had put up “roadblocks” to funding for Jackson’s water system, as both Congress members and the NAACP have alleged. Those claims are now the focus of an active investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency into the state’s spending.
In the letter, responding to a request for information from U.S. Reps. Bennie Thompson and Carolyn Maloney, Reeves again shifted blame for Jackson’s ongoing water crisis onto the city’s mismanagement.
The letter details the city’s long list of federal drinking water violations, which include staffing shortages, contaminant violations, and failing to install corrosion control to ensure the absence of lead in the distribution system. The governor also blamed Jackson for its inability to collect water revenue after a failed water meter contract with Siemens.
“Of the more than 1,100 water systems in Mississippi, only the system operated by (Jackson) is unable to set and collect rates sufficient to cover its costs of operations, maintenance and debt service,” Reeves wrote.
Reeves countered the argument from the U.S. representatives that the state had provided a disproportionate amount of federal funding to Jackson. With money from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, the primary avenue for federal funding of water infrastructure improvements, Jackson received $28 million in FY 2021, or about two-thirds of the state’s total allotment.
He also addressed the NAACP’s point that Jackson has only received allocations from the revolving fund three times in the program’s 25-year history, arguing the city has only applied for the funds those three times. Jackson, he added, did not apply for state’s revolving funds in FY 2022.
“There is no factual basis whatsoever to suggest that there has been an ‘underinvestment’ in (Jackson) or that it received disproportionately less than any other area of the state,” the letter reads.
Mississippi caps forgiveness for those loans, though, at $500,000, a limit Reps. Thompson and Maloney called “arbitrary.” Reeves responded that the cap is set to ensure that forgiveness is available to “as many ‘disadvantaged communities’ as possible.”
The governor’s letter also responded to the question over the extra oversight state lawmakers required for funds going to Jackson. A bill from last session, HB 1031, required that money going to the city be placed in a special fund that’s overseen by the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration. Reeves didn’t argue the merit of the extra requirement, only mentioning that all of the Legislature’s Democratic and Black members supported the bill.
The questions over state support to Jackson follow a history of Mississippi lawmakers putting up obstacles for the city to access needed infrastructure funding.
In 2021, lawmakers killed a proposal from the city to allow city voters to decide whether to levy an additional, citywide 1-cent sales tax increase for water and sewerage repairs. Also in 2021, the city of Jackson unsuccessfully lobbied lawmakers for $47 million in funding for drinking water improvements. The Jackson City Council also requested another $60 million to build new water tanks. With the state relatively flush with cash, lawmakers approved spending $356 million in projects statewide, but earmarked only $3 million for Jackson.