Legislature passes incentive package for Lowndes plant

Published 11:24 pm Saturday, April 28, 2007

Gov. Haley Barbour says he expects an announcement in May about whether a truck engine company will locate in Mississippi.

Barbour’s comments came after the Legislature on Friday passed a $48.4 million incentive package to bring the company to the state.

While no one has said what the company is, the only one being mentioned is PACCAR of Bellevue, Wash., the maker of Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks. The publicly traded company announced in January that it was planning to build an engine-manufacturing plant somewhere in the Southeast.

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Officials said the $300 million plant would employ about 500 people. Production would be expected to start in 2010.

Passage of the package was in doubt Friday after House members tried to add $10 million for a burn center onto a bill to pass for the session. The Senate adjourned and left the Capitol without acting on the bill.

House members, led by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, were angry that the Senate didn’t pass at least one House bill in the package. The House ultimately passed the incentive bills.

“What matters is the Legislature passed everything needed for this economic development project to come to our state,” Barbour said in a statement after the special session ended. “We are now working with the company to write a memorandum of understanding consistent with the legislation passed today, and we expect an announcement in May.”

Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck said the Senate would not address the burn center issue.

“We came here to do the work that was in the call by the governor,” Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, told the Senate, over which she presides. “We have accomplished what we came here to do. We have passed the legislation that was in the proclamation issued by the governor.”

The governor controls the agenda during a special session, and the burn center was not part of the line up. However, it’s an issue many lawmakers don’t want to let die in an election year.

The state’s only burn unit, the Mississippi Firefighters Memorial Burn Center, which was part of the private Delta Regional Medical Center, closed in 2005 after lawmakers declined to offer millions in aid to the ailing facility. Since then, Mississippi has shipped burn victims to surrounding states.

“I’m going to fight for a burn center. It’s my number one issue,” said House Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. “I don’t give a flip who’s opposed to it.”

Watson said Senate leaders had agreed to pass the House version of the incentives package.

Ownership of major bills is a big deal to lawmakers, but outside the state Capitol few people know whether the House or Senate sponsored legislation.

“They could have stayed here and took up the House bill as they said they would,” Watson said during an angry speech on the House floor. “They have shown a great deal of disrespect for the House and the Ways and Means Committee.”

After meeting with his committee, Watson decided to pass the Senate package and leave.

“Without going over everything that has occurred so far today, I just want tell you everything is all right,” Watson said. “It’s just (the Senate) didn’t want to vote on some other bills that had been passed by this body. We don’t want to see this project go down because of their decision to leave town.”

The incentives package will fund onsite improvements on roads, site preparation and the extension of water and wastewater services, as well as offsite items like infrastructure and work force training. The bills would also allow Lowndes County to issue $15 million in bonds and use imminent domain to obtain property for the plant.

The bill are Senate Bills 2001, 2002 and 2003.