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Snowden, Bryan disagree on progress made in Legislature's special session

DIFFERING VIEWS: State Rep. Greg Snowden, left, and state Sen. Hob Bryan, right, presented differing views of the just-completed special session. Photo illustration by Steve Wilson

Two longtime legislators and friends presented differing views of the just completed special session at the Stennis Capitol Press Forum Monday.

State Rep. Greg Snowden (R-Meridian) and state Sen. Hob Bryan (D-Amory) both voted against the lottery bill that passed with the slimmest majority on its second attempt in the House, but agreed on nothing else after that.

Snowden is the House Speaker Pro Tempore and has been in the Legislature since 1999. He said the special session in which the Legislature passed bills pertaining with infrastructure, creation of a state lottery and the remaining BP oil spill settlement was made possible by factors that materialized after it adjourned from its regular session in April.

Those included two U.S. Supreme Court decisions handed down in June that allowed states to collect internet sales taxes and another ended the ban on sports wagers in states other than Nevada.

Gov. Phil Bryant has signed all three pieces of legislation into law.

"I believe this was five of the most productive days I've ever experienced in the Legislature," Snowden said. "We accomplished enormous things in those five days."

A provision in the bill that authorized daily fantasy sports leagues and was passed in 2017 allowed Mississippi to be one of the states to legalize gambling on sports.

Bryan has been in the Senate since 1984. The Democrat lawmaker assailed the Republican supermajority for its lack of transparency on the presented bills and told the group that the structure of a governing board for the state's yet-to-be created lottery corporation was fraught with the potential for ethical lapses.

"This bill was introduced and it was assigned to the transportation and highway committee, no doubt because of that committee's keen experience and expertise in the area of lotteries," Bryan said while holding up a copy of the 132-page bill that authorized the creation of the state's lottery. "The bill sets up what is called a corporation. I still, to this day, can't tell you what it is.

"There was no meaningful discussion, no meaningful debate to set up this corporation to run the lottery. There was so much going on at the special session, the lottery and what it's going for, that there was never time to properly focus on this huge entity that's going to have lots and lots of money completely out of the government's control."

Bryan also said that the BP settlement was intended to make the state's coffers whole from loss of sales tax revenue and should've been kept in the general fund.

The lottery will be administered by a corporation governed by a board of directors, all of whom will be appointed by the governor. For the first decade in operation of the lottery, $80 million in revenues will be provided for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, with the rest earmarked for early childhood education.

The Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2018 will send 35 percent of the state's use tax revenues by 2020 to cities and counties to help with infrastructure. The state's 7 percent use tax is collected on out of state sales, which thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court decision now includes internet sales.

The law will additionally authorize $300 million in borrowing, with $250 million for the Mississippi Department of Transportation and $50 million for local infrastructure not administered by MDOT.

The law will also increase registration fees for owners of hybrid and electric vehicles and redirect gaming tax revenue from sports wagering to roads and bridges. Hybrid owners will pay an additional $75 when they register their vehicles annually, while owners of electrics will pay $150.

The BP settlement bill will give 75 percent of the remaining settlement to coastal counties, with the rest redistributed throughout the state.

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