Analysis: Mississippi faces big decisions over relief money

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Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann addresses business leaders at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual “Hobnob Mississippi” in Jackson, Mississippi on Thursday, October 28, 2021. (AP Photo / Rogelio V. Solis)

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Mississippi is behind many other states in deciding how to spend billions of federal dollars for pandemic relief.

Congress allocated $ 1.8 billion to Mississippi as part of the US bailout, and the first half of the money flowed into the treasury in May, weeks after lawmakers ended their 2021 session.

The federal government says US bailout money can only be spent on certain expenses. These include public health, including COVID-19 mitigation; tackle the economic damage that the pandemic has caused to businesses; replace state government revenues that have been lost due to the pandemic; provide a bonus for essential workers; and invest in water, sewage and broadband infrastructure.

Republican Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann said it was imperative that the money go to “transformation projects”.

“The legacy for the Legislature this year, and for everyone who works or works there, is how we spend this money,” Hosemann said Oct. 28 at Hobnob, a rally hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. of State, Mississippi Economic Council.

Cities and counties are also receiving millions of federal dollars for pandemic relief.

Hosemann said spending the money efficiently could help businesses thrive today and ensure that “kids have a place to come home and work” when they grow up.

“If we do this right, if we are able to match our cities and counties with things that go into the ground, not for one or two years but for one or two generations, we will have a huge advantage for the future, ”Hosemann mentioned.

Northern District Civil Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Democrat, wrote in a recent newspaper column that Mississippi needs to invest pandemic relief funds in projects that could improve people’s quality of life, including expanding broadband access and improving water supply systems.

“Like all programs, there is some wiggle room over spending, but now is not the time to be cute and pushy with those dollars,” Presley wrote.

He said frontline workers in the event of a pandemic deserve extra pay and the state should help businesses hit by declining tourism.

“These funds have a very limited purpose and leaders have to be very responsible with them, realizing that these are one-time funds that may never return,” Presley wrote. “We simply cannot bend over backwards to sidestep and stretch the guidelines of a wishlist of questionable pet projects while ignoring the real intent of the funds.”

Hosemann has appointed a Senate subcommittee to lead discussions on spending the pandemic relief money. He appointed Republican Senator John Polk of Hattiesburg as president. The other members are Republicans Dennis DeBar of Leakesville, Walter Michel of Ridgeland, Rita Potts Parks of Corinth and Bart Williams of Starkville; and Democratic Sens. Albert Butler of Port Gibson and Hillman Frazier of Jackson.

Senators will work with members of the House on all spending plans.

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn has made it clear that he also wants pandemic relief money to go to projects that deliver long-term improvements – not short-term fixes.

Even as lawmakers prepare to spend the federal money, they are starting to work on the state budget for the year that begins on July 1 of this year. This raises a complex set of questions about priorities, including promises by many leaders to increase teacher salaries.

Without even factoring in federal pandemic relief money, Mississippi has had strong state tax collections in recent months. According to the Legislative Budget Office, tax revenue exceeded expectations by more than $ 258 million for the first three months of the budget year, which began on July 1.

Hosemann told the Hobnob audience that the rebound in state tax collections is “awesome.” In the next breath, he warned, “This won’t last. “

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