State Politics

House passes bill to allow companies to help pay MDA exec's salary

A bill that would allow companies to chip in on the salary for the state’s 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 director’s state-paid salary is capped at 150 percent of the governor’s, 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 MDA’s 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. “I’m all for paying an MDA director whatever we need to, even if it’s $500,000. But with this you’d have an area like Tupelo that’s flush with cash, compared to Drew, Mississippi, where you couldn’t raise $100,000 if your life depended on it ... Private donations – that’s the fox guarding the henhouse.”

But Rep. John Read, R-Gautier, who handled the bill’s 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 there’s any improprieties, then I think they ought to be prosecuted We can’t control what’s in someone’s 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 Thursday’s Sun Herald.