Hosemann says time to act on ARPA is now.
Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann expressed concerns on Thursday about any delay in appropriating American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money throughout the state of Mississippi. Both chambers have presented bills this year that would spread the monies between cities, counties, and other needs including rural water infrastructure.
The state has been allocated $1.8 billion from the federal government in ARPA funds, more specifically $900 million at present. While the funds do not have to be appropriated until 2024, the Senate has maintained the position that it needs to be done sooner rather than later.
Although all of the money has not yet been received, Hosemann said the Senate hopes to obligate the funds to allow counties and cities to begin working toward projects they have submitted.
In order to be ready to do appropriate the funds in the 2022 session, the Senate held multiple hearings regarding where best to allocate the funds, concluding those meetings in December.
RELATED: Mississippi Senate ARPA Subcommittee holds last hearing ahead of start of 2022 legislative session
“If we wait another year that means we are behind every other state in spending this money,” said Hosemann. “We are very concerned that this is getting hung up here in the last two weeks of the session. It is not good public policy to try to move $1.8 billion, or in this case $900 million, late in a session without having due consideration.”
The House invited conference on ARPA bills alive from the Senate prior to adjourning on Thursday. Hosemann still shared concerns that the legislation would get held up. When asked why and if it was due to the highly discussed income tax cut proposal, Hosemann was of the opinion that based on Gunn’s previous comments regarding spending, that could be a stumbling block.
Speaker of the House Philip Gunn has been vocal on his timeline regarding the passage of any additional monies in the state prior to an income tax cut.
“We don’t spend money until such time as we give the taxpayers, who are the ones that gave us that money in the first place, some tax relief,” Gunn told SuperTalk in February. “So, I am of the belief that if we can’t get this tax elimination done in the next couple of weeks, then the governor…should call a special session to eliminate the income tax before we spend a dime of any other money.”
Gunn released a statement Thursday afternoon in response to what was titled the “Lieutenant Governor’s Claims of Legislative Gridlock over Income Tax” bringing the conversation to a head. The full release states:
“The Senate has produced two separate reports in which they claim a severe revenue shortfall is looming and insist these reports are why Mississippi cannot eliminate the state income tax and put money back into taxpayer pockets.
“However, their actions expose their hypocrisy as they currently propose spending all the ARPA money and all our reserves. Most telling is that they voted to give themselves a $6000 pay raise while only giving the taxpayers a tax break of $50.
“If the Lieutenant Governor and Senate genuinely believe that a revenue decline is coming, then the true conservative policy would be to keep these monies in reserve should we need to repurpose them to address a potential downturn.
“The Senate cannot have it both ways. If a crisis is indeed coming, then following their logic, we need to save ARPA and our reserves. Our position is to point out these glaring discrepancies.”
Earlier, Hosemann said he has asked all of his members in the Senate to begin meeting with conferees in the House as quickly as possible. He hopes to see work move swiftly, similar to what was seen with the teacher pay raise earlier in the session.
The Lt. Governor said concerns heightened last week after members of the U.S. House of Representatives proposed a bill to take back all of the ARPA money that had not yet been obligated.
RELATED: Mississippi Senate bills propose allocation of American Rescue Act Plan funds to agencies, departments
Hosemann told reporters that the real risk of not appropriating those dollars is to cities, counties, mental health facilities, child protective services, the National Guard and more, indicating that applications for over $700 million of the ARPA monies have come from cities and counties.
“We can’t afford not to spend, in Mississippi, $900 million on water, sewer and broadband. Tourism is another,” said Hosemann. “Inflation is running about seven-percent. So next year, when I come to spend my $1.8 billion it’s really $1.65, because its cost me a whole year of inflation.”
Hosemann said waiting could impact how much money the state actually has to spend and that does not even touch on the ability to secure contracts to get the work done.
As of Thursday, the House moved to invite conference on the main Senate ARPA bills. Those include:
- SB 2862, allocated $59.1 million to the Department of Child Protective Services.
- SB 2863, allocated $3.17 million to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
- SB 2864, allocated nearly $10,391,000 to the Mississippi National Guard.
- SB 2865, allocated $86,069,500 to the Department of Mental Health and $18,550,000 to the Department of Mental Health to be utilized at Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs).
Lt. Governor Hosemann said he hopes to see movement speed up now that the Senate has addressed the House income tax bill on the floor of the Senate. That bill was passed with changes and will likely end up in conference as the 2022 session nears an end.