Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves will hold town halls across the three Coast counties to gather ideas on how to spend BP settlement money on economic development projects.
Reeves was on the Coast on Wednesday trying to promote unity in the Coast delegation in its pursuit of money aimed at rebuilding the economy damaged by BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf in 2010.
Mississippi will receive $750 million over 15 years for those damages. In all, the state will receive about $2.4 billion but only the $750 million will be controlled by lawmakers.
“In my view, that is money we need to focus on spending in South Mississippi,” Reeves said.
He later said that meant spending money on projects that would improve the economy in the three Coast counties.
He said town halls would be in Jackson, Harrison and Hancock counties and at least one of them would be at night “after the 5 o’clock hour.” The dates and locations of the town halls will be determined.
“If you have a project that makes sense, that you think will help grow the size of our economy, we encourage you to come to one of our meetings, or, I encourage you submit information through email or some other avenue,” he said.
Reeves said he favors spending all the money in South Mississippi.
“I’m also a realist,” he said. “We cannot allow this to become an us versus them argument because of the fact there are 122 members of the House and 52 members of the Senate and the vast majority of them don’t live in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson county.
“But I do think it will be easy for us to make the argument to our friends and colleagues all over the state that if we can grow the size of the economy in South Mississippi, we will grow the size of the economy in the entire state.”
He said he doesn’t want to do what Alabama is proposing, spending money on shoring up Medicaid and trust funds “they stole from” and on road projects in Mobile and Baldwin counties.
Mississippi is trying to come up with millions to spend on its roads and bridges and revenue has been coming in short of projections, leaving the state considering whether to try to raise revenue or cut services. Several working groups held hearings on the budget and taxes earlier this week in Jackson.
In addition to the town halls, Reeves said he wants to meet with every mayor and supervisor in the three Coast counties.
He said he also has talked a lot to House Speaker Philip Gunn and Gov. Phil Bryant who agree, “at least philosophically,” on the type of projects they want to spend money and on the location of the projects “in South Mississippi.”
Officials already have compiled many proposals using ideas from people from all walks of life as well as elected officials in the Go Coast 2020 report that Reeves said “at worst is a good beginning.”
“We have to stick together and stay united to spend the money here,” he said.
Rep. John Read of Gautier said Reeves had reassured him that the money wasn’t going to disappear into the general fund budget.
“It’s just going to take some time,” he said. “We have to gather some ideas to present to our colleagues. That’s what he’s trying to do.”