Disaster recovery may be economic boost for state

Published 1:57 am Sunday, May 22, 2011

The worst Mississippi River flooding since at least 1937 has displaced thousands of Mississippi Delta residents, inundated about 580,000 acres, closed 17 of the 19 casinos in the river counties from Tunica to Natchez, and disrupted river commerce.

But until crests have passed and water starts draining out, Mississippi’s official estimates of economic costs and remedies must remain wait-and-see.

Many interests — commercial, private and public — believe the cost of the Flood of 2011, as it’s now being called, will be huge, but some of the same voices also believe recovery from the flood and tornado damage could be a positive economic bump for the state’s economy and its revenue collections — similar to the period of rebuilding following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

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Allen Godfrey, deputy director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said if all the casinos on the river close, the loss in gaming tax revenue would total almost $13 million per month. Also lost would be sales and withholding taxes related to the casinos, which gross about $1.3 billion in revenue per year.

Laura Hipp, Gov. Haley Barbour’s press spokeswoman, said in answer to Journal questions, “As flood waters are still rising, it is too early to say how the state will be impacted economically from both the flood and the April storms. Once the waters recede, we will have a better picture of what must be rebuilt and how farm land is affected. We also are waiting to see how much of the recovery costs the federal government will cover. Once all of those factors are known, we will have a better picture of how the state budget will fare.”

She said of a rebound, “Again, it is too early to say how the rebuilding phase will impact state finances. After Hurricane Katrina, the state did see a bump from people rebuilding businesses and houses. We just don’t know right now if that pattern will repeat itself after the flood and spring storms.”

The steady course on state finances is the right decision. …

Mississippi’s official action won’t stop nature, but planning can speed recovery.