Thursday, October 6, 2005

Casino change gets approval

Staff Writer

The Mississippi House of Representatives passed legislation Friday that would allow gaming casinos to move inland as far as 800 feet in the three Gulf Coast counties of Harrison, Hancock and Jackson, according to Rep. Kelvin Buck.

The Senate then approved land-based casinos on Monday.

Gov. Haley Barbour is expected to sign the bill this week.

Buck said he voted no.

“I don’t want them inland,” he said. “It’s a sad day when the state of Mississippi has to depend on casinos as the major economic engine to move the state forward.

“I feel like we could come up with a better economic base than the gaming industry. I would like to see more conventional industries that offer better wages.”

Buck said he wants more skilled labor and technical jobs in the state. He said the Nissan plant has jobs that pay $12 to $13 an hour, as he understands it.

The House also passed a $100 million personal grant program for homeowners whose homes were severely damaged during Hurricane Katrina. The legislation requires the homeowner be uninsured and can pay up to $25,000 to put toward home repair or rebuilding, Buck said. The grants do not apply to mobile homes destroyed in the hurricane.

The House also added legislation to replace ad valorem taxes school districts will lose as a result of the loss of the ad valorem tax collections. The bill will deal with school district requests on a case-by-case basis, he said.

The Senate counterpart to the education bill will go to joint conference.

The House also considered legislation to help county and city governments that lost their tax base. The bill provides for bridge loans to help these local governments to provide police and fire protection and other basic services until the Federal Emergency Management Agency closes the gap and the tax bases are restored. The bill goes to joint conference of the House and Senate to work out differences, Buck said.

He said all this legislation is based on the declaration of states as an official disaster area by President George Bush. Only counties declared federal disaster areas qualify for this assistance.

The legislature also passed a resolution urging Mississippi’s Congressional delegation to push for release of HAVA (Help America Vote Act) and other federal funds to disaster areas as soon as possible, Buck said. He added that the state’s bond rating is still in good shape. The bond rating is based on a comparison of the state’s debt service versus revenues, he said.

The Legislature was called back to special session Tuesday, Oct. 4, to “tie up all the loose ends of both short- and long-term needs caused by the devastation,” Buck said.

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