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Cities and counties have given $23 million to non-profit organizations since 2009

In the last decade, the Mississippi Legislature has authorized more than $23 million in contributions to non-profit organizations from cities and counties.

To provide funds to a non-profit organization as a donation or for activities such as Head Start (pre-kindergarten programs), community development, museums, economic development councils and medical clinics, a city or a county needs to get a local and private bill passed by the Legislature and approved by Gov. Phil Bryant.

After the bill's passage into law, the county board of supervisors or city board of aldermen can then appropriate the money.

While most of the contributions are benign, there are some transparency issues. Once the city or county provides the donation to the non-profit, either annually or a one-time contribution, the money is no longer subject to public records laws.

House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton) says that he doesn't have a problem with the Legislature passing these bills even though cities and counties are asking for more money from the state to help with bridge repair and replacement.

"We allow them to give to Boys and Girls Clubs, different organizations that would be relevant to their counties," Gunn said. "I don't think that amount of money adds up to any significant number. It may, but those are generally things that go to the betterment of those local communities. We generally don't have a problem doing that."

UP AND DOWN: Contributions to non-profit organizations authorized by the Legislature waxes and wanes. Graph by Steve Wilson

The amount of money authorized for cities and counties to contribute to non-profits by the Legislature varies widely, going as high as $5.7 million in 2016 and as a low as more than 352,000 in 2014.

Local and private bills usually benefit a city or county in a legislator's district and are one of the last chores the Legislature wraps up before leaving town at session's end. Other bills that part of the local and private category passed this year include those that authorized several cities to collect tourism taxes on hotels and restaurants. Others authorized the use of golf carts on city streets in Mendenhall, Ocean Springs and Clinton.

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