A major problem with the Mississippi Development Authority is that it is not an objective source of analysis when it comes to measuring how the taxpayers’ money is being invested in efforts to grow the state’s economy.
Its duty should be not to pump up whoever is in the governor’s office with exaggerated claims of how many jobs the incumbent has created, but to carefully and methodically analyze what economic development projects are worth landing for the taxpayers footing the bill.
Although MDA says in its literature that it “takes its fiduciary responsibility seriously,” that’s mostly talk. It rarely shoots straight either with the lawmakers who are asked to approve of massive corporate giveaways or to the public that pays for them. MDA’s figures are frequently incomplete or misleading, its economic analysis superficial, its math intentionally flawed, all to hide the true costs of some of the economic development projects the agency and governors like to brag about.
Instead of honest, full disclosure of the financial pros and cons of any effort to land a new industry or help one expand, MDA offers one-sided spin.
A perfect example was a self-congratulatory op-ed column from MDA’s executive director, Glenn McCullough Jr., this past weekend in The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson.
MDA, writes McCullough, is not just in the job-creation business, it’s in the career-creation business. And look how many careers it has created, he boasts, with the most recent megadeal — the Continental Tire plant in Hinds County and the Edison Chouest shipyard expansion on the Gulf Coast, both of which were rammed through the Legislature in a hurried-up special session in February. He writes, “This combined investment of $1.5 billion and 3,500 careers is a testament to Mississippi’s winning advantage ... .” A gullible public is supposed to be wowed.
Typically, though, McCullough makes not a word of mention of how much state and local governments are coughing up in outlays for plant construction, tax breaks, tax rebates and other incentives for this deal. On the Continental Tire project alone, the estimated public cost is $600 million, or about $240,000 for every $40,000-a-year “career” it creates. Throw that into the equation, and it doesn’t sound so impressive. In fact, you start scratching your head as to whether this deal will ever pay for itself.
If you want to understand people’s motivations, it’s not what they tell you but what they don’t that is the best gauge.