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North, south and in between: Barbour sets session agenda

Lawmakers will consider projects for far northern and far southern Mississippi, and for one point in between, during a special session this week.

Gov. Haley Barbour on Tuesday released his agenda for the session, which begins at 9 a.m. Thursday. It includes:

— Incentives for Riverbend Crossing, a proposed residential and commercial development in southwest DeSoto County. The 4,500-acre site sits south of Memphis and north of the booming casino area of Mississippi’s Tunica County.

— Proposals to help coastal communities whose tax bases were crippled by Hurricane Katrina last Aug. 29.

— A plan to reduce the tax on modular housing from its current 7 percent to 3 percent. Manufactured housing, or mobile homes, already are taxed at 3 percent. Barbour said modular houses typically are made to meet more stringent codes than mobile homes, and encouraging the use of modular homes could help the coast with its Katrina recovery.

— A plan to let the city of Magee issue $25 million in bonds for expansion of the local hospital. It was among several “local and private” bills that died in a dispute between the House and the Senate when last year’s regular legislative session ended in April.

“Working with the leadership of the House and Senate, I believe we have developed a plan to deal with issues that require immediate action,” Barbour said in a news release. “I am hopeful this special session will be short and productive.”

Only a governor can call a special session, and only he can set the agenda.

Barbour called five special sessions in 2005, but this is the first one of 2006. The two committees that handle tax and bond proposals are getting an early start on their work.

The House Finance Committee meets at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Capitol, and the Senate Finance Committee meets two hours later. Both sides will discuss the proposals, but members can’t vote on anything until the session officially starts.

Ways and Means Chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, said he hopes the session will last only a couple of days.

“We have been thoroughly briefed on the coast matter,” Watson said Tuesday. “I don’t anticipate that is going to cause a major problem.”

The coast proposal involved a complicated financial plan that could make $20 million available to local governments.

“The tax base of the communities that bore the brunt of the storm was almost completely destroyed,” said state Treasurer Tate Reeves, who helped design the plan. “These grants will help those communities pay their bills and get back on their feet.”

The Riverbend project in fast-growing DeSoto County would include 9,500 homes, plus commercial sites, including an entertainment district by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Barbour said he’ll ask lawmakers to approve $23 million for roads, water and sewer for Riverbend. He also said he’ll seek approval for a tourism sales-tax rebate for part of the project.