Rep. Dana Criswell - At Your Capitol, Week of March 14
This week the House faced the deadline for floor action on Appropriation and Revenue bills originating in the House. Which means we spent millions of YOUR dollars on everything from education to restoration of the Shubuta Town Hall.
House Bill 1729, the “big bond bill,” would authorize approximately $179 million in bonds for various projects. The committee substitute of the bill contains only $1 million in each section of the bond bill (for a total of $20 million) in order to keep the bill alive through the legislative process. The House and Senate will later agree on a set amount for each bond. Discretionary money for small projects in local communities is also incorporated into this legislation. Some of the larger projects included are:
$95.7 million for the eight colleges and universities to manage their top priority projects over a two-year period
$35 million total per year for Community/Junior Colleges to use as they see fit. This would allow them to plan ahead for various projects, as well.
$20 million will be devoted to the Mississippi Coliseum and State Fairgrounds to use over two years ($10 million each year) for upgrades to facilities and construction of a new Trade Mart.
This bill also provides millions of dollars for local projects such as:
$100,000.00 for Jacinto Foundation, to pay the costs of capital improvements, repairing, renovating, restoring, rehabilitating, preserving, furnishing and/or equipping the courthouse and related facilities in Jacinto, Mississippi
$425,000.00 as grant funds to the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation to pay the costs of capital improvements, repairing, renovating, restoring, rehabilitating, preserving, furnishing, equipping and/or acquiring the L.Q.C. Lamar Home in Oxford, Mississippi.
$975,000.00 as grant funds to the City of Columbus, Mississippi, to assist in paying the costs associated with repair, renovation and restoration of the Columbus City Hall building and related facilities.
I voted against this bill, over the past several months I've learned that our state will be almost $100 million short of funds and we will need to dip into our state savings account to make our budget. Our universities and colleges must be funded but I do not think we are in a financial position to spend money on renovating city halls, building museums, equine centers, or other entertainment projects. I will vote for a bill that funds our universities and colleges but I will not vote for one that has millions of dollars of "pork" projects hidden within.
The Gas Tax
There is a lot of talk about bridges and roads. I serve on the House Transportation Committee and I am convinced that our bridges and roads need attention. For years our politicians have kicked the can down the road by spending money building new roads, but have neglected doing the maintenance required. Now we have bridges and roads throughout the state that are in need of major repairs. So the question is, How do we pay for these repairs?
This week I watched as the Senate debated for two hours a possible increase in the gas tax. The bill debated did not actually increase the gas tax but was a "dummy" bill that brought forward the code sections needed to keep the “conversation for a gas tax increase” alive. Just like the bond bills that were passed without the actual dollar amount, a gas tax would be added to this "dummy" bill later in conference.
During the debate I learned several important things:
The average family in MS has saved $700 per year since gas prices declined
MS spends much more per mile to build highways than many states in the nation
No study on spending by the MS Dept of transportation has been performed
over the past 12 years Mississippi has spent nearly $700 million on entertainment projects
The "dummy" bill passed the Senate on Wednesday and will now make its way to the House. I do not believe the answer to our funding problem is an increase in taxes on the people of Mississippi. Until we are spending our money wisely and not on entertainment projects, I will not vote for any tax increase.
If this "dummy" bill comes to the House, I will vote against the bill.
Visiting the Capitol
Thursday was Desoto County Economic Development Day at the capitol. The Desoto County group is famous for the fried pies they serve in the capitol rotunda. Everyone in the capitol looks forward to Fried Pie Day!
Every week I meet people who impress me with their unselfish desire to help others. This week I learned about Healing Hearts
Child Advocacy Center located in Southaven. Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center's mission is to respond to child abuse with a supportive team approach that reduces trauma through advocacy, treatment, education, and prevention. Did you know that on average, 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys are sexually abused before they reach age 18 and 68% of perpetrators are family members, and 90% are someone the child knows?
Learn more about the work of Healing Hearts on their website www.HealingHeartscac.org
Also visiting this week from Desoto County was Debra and Lilli Dye and Ashleigh and Jude Parker. It's always great to see folks from home at the capitol.