Paul Hampton

PAUL HAMPTON: Where the rubber meets the yellow brick road

Paul Hampton
Paul Hampton SUN HERALD

With the speed usually reserved for those fleeing a burning building, the Mississippi legislature handed millions of your money to a foreign company.

Well, that's not exactly how they're spinning the passage of a couple incentive packages in Jackson.

But the breakneck acceleration of the body that in its first three weeks had been sauntering along mourning a bluesman and commending volleyball teams, marching bands and pageant winners was a bit suspicious.

Apparently, there just wasn't time to get any input from the folks back home. Gov. Phil Bryant emailed the proclamation to the masses shortly before noon Wednesday.

AND THE SUBSTANTIVE PARTS WERE ALL UPPERCASE, SINGLE SPACED AND A SINGLE SENTENCE THAT SPANNED MORE THAN TWO PAGES AND UMPTEEN SEMICOLONS; IT WAS A JOY TO READ.

A little more than 24 hours later, the massive borrow-and-spend bill was headed to his desk.

Oh, that's right, I forgot to mention they'll borrow the money to give to the Germans because those education moths done et holes in the pockets of the state treasury. You's just the collateral. Now git back in the yoke.

I don't know why they didn't slow it down a bit, let the people howl then summarily grant the corporate welfare. They have no respect for the average Josephine. They certainly don't fear her.

Oh, but the jobs. The jobs. Granted, Mississippi needs the jobs. That's despite the sunny assessment of the state's well-being given any time a state leader gets near a microphone.

They definitely need them at the Port of Gulfport, where they're just about 1,000 shy of the jobs needed to get the feds off their backs. And coincidence of coincidences, that's just about how many is promised at the "inland port."

Now, those jobs sound like a good deal at a cost of $11 million to the taxpayer. I know. I know. A "good" deal. However, we have to figure in the $570 million that port got in diverted housing money in those crazy post-Katrina days.

Back then, they called it the Port of the Future. They just didn't know the future was on Gulfport Lake. At least they're all set for climate change.

The 2,500 jobs at the Continental Tire plant in Hinds County are a bit pricier at $263 million. The plant will be built on wetlands in west Hinds County, an area populated by an endangered species, the Democrats. However, nearby is the home of the biggest Republican in the House, Speaker Phil Gunn. Probably a coincidence.

How badly did the Republican establishment want this? This is the good part. You knew I'd find a silver lining.

They wanted it so badly they agreed to an amendment designed to give minorities a fair shot at the pot of gold.

They say the taxpayers can't lose -- the deal has clawbacks. If the "jobs" don't materialize, the state will just head over to the mothership in Germany and grab your money back for you.

So far, the state's track record on recouping bad investments has been spotty. But there's a deeper problem. Incentives can backfire.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonpartisan think tank, did a study that wrapped up in 2013 when it was presented to the National Council of State Legislatures.

The short version:

-- Incentives are rarely the deciding factor

-- The money from the incentives won't all stay in the state

-- Incentives may encourage displacement, not growth

-- Incentives can mean reductions in other public services businesses use every day.

But here's the big one:

-- Business owners sometimes interpret the presence of lucrative incentives as an indicator that a location may have other serious weaknesses, or that the government is mismanaged or desperate.

At least we didn't throw the money away on a Medicaid expansion that's proven to be lucrative for other states.

In the iVantage Health Analytics Hospital Strength Index released in January we find the number of vulnerable hospitals in Mississippi has risen from 22 to 42 in one year. The loss of Medicaid dollars coupled with the loss of disproportionate payment money from the federal government (designed to offset the cost of uninsured patients) is a major factor.

Yes, nothing reeks of desperation like a hospital on the critical list. Unless it is schools that have to beg for pencils and tissue. Or a school bus inching over a bridge posted with warning signs.

Contact Paul Hampton, politics editor of the Sun Herald, at 896-2330 or jphampton@sunherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at jpaulhampton

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