JACKSON — A bill that would allow companies to chip in on the salary for the states top economic development official passed the House 85-29 on Wednesday, but was held for more debate before it would be sent to the governor.
There was heated debate on House Bill 1349, with some lawmakers wondering if various companies or regions of the state paying the director of the Mississippi Development Authority would have undue influence on development issues. Currently, an MDA directors state-paid salary is capped at 150 percent of the governors, or about $185,000. Supporters of the bill say this is not enough to recruit or keep a top-drawer director.
Some lawmakers argued that the change could allow affluent areas of the state to influence MDAs decisions on where to pitch new industry and leave poor areas out in the cold.
If I you were a member of the Shongalo Methodist Church and you own the sawmill, the grocery store, the gin and the funeral parlor in town, and you paid the preacher more than anyone else, would you think it was right, especially of you told the preacher what to do and say? said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. Im all for paying an MDA director whatever we need to, even if its $500,000. But with this youd have an area like Tupelo thats flush with cash, compared to Drew, Mississippi, where you couldnt raise $100,000 if your life depended on it ... Private donations thats the fox guarding the henhouse.
But Rep. John Read, R-Gautier, who handled the bills passage Wednesday, said a Senate amendment to make the stipends public the original House version specified they were to be secret will let the sun shine in and help prevent problems.
This will be on record, Read said. If theres any improprieties, then I think they ought to be prosecuted We cant control whats in someones mind, or larceny in their hearts, but by publishing who contributes, if you see one area getting more, then you have the guns and ammunition to go after it.
Read more in Thursdays Sun Herald.