Thursday, July 6, 2017  SUBSCRIBE   
Lee County leaders revert Agricenter lease back to Mississippi State
Lee County Board of Supervisors President Phil Morgan said he signed the executive order Wednesday to give the Agricenter back to Mississippi State University. Lee County leaders entered into a 99-year lease agreement with MSU for the Agricenter in the early 1990s. The Verona facility has been serving Lee County, Tupelo and north Mississippi with events in the area. But, a couple of weeks ago, the board president says they voted unanimously to revert the lease back to MSU. The good news, Morgan says is that MSU wanted the property back. MSU will take over the building on August 1.
Zippy Duvall: Labor, infrastructure critical issues for agriculture
Concerns about a dwindling supply of farm workers, a deteriorating network of roads, bridges, and waterways, and farmland being gobbled up by urban/commercial development are foremost on the minds of U.S. farmers, says Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Of those, he said during a panel discussion on "Maintaining Competitiveness in the Global Marketplace" at the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation's Summer Commodity Conference at Mississippi State University, "Labor is the No. 1 issue in agriculture today."
Infrastructure, jobs and parks high on Starkville's to-do list
Many of the hottest issues on this spring's campaign trail -- infrastructure fixes, job creation and improvements to Starkville's public park system -- are now set to be high-priority agenda items for the next four years. A poll of Mayor Lynn Spruill and the board of aldermen show a consensus among Starkville's elected officials to work on the basic responsibilities of municipal government, like solving growing road and drainage issues while also addressing numerous issues found in last year's comprehensive planning effort for the Starkville Parks and Recreation Department. The administration of former Mayor Parker Wiseman and the board of aldermen was at the helm during a time of increased economic development investments in the past four years. Continued successes in both retail and industrial projects, officials said this week, will help the city's bottom line as it looks to aggressively fund improvements.
Starkville man charged with assaulting officer
An Oktibbeha County man is facing felony charges after striking a Starkville police officer. Bennie B. Hubbard, 46, of Starkville, was charged with simple assault on a police officer (felony), disorderly conduct and resisting arrest following an incident July 4 around 3 p.m. at the Sprint Mart, located at 1218 New Light Road. Hubbard was transported to the Webster County Jail and has an initial municipal court appearance scheduled for Monday, Aug. 7.
Casino tops $32 million in new Coast development
Heavy equipment is digging across South Mississippi and lifting steel as a new casino goes up in Gulfport, new offices are under construction and a hotel gets a makeover. What was a parking lot is becoming a $75 million smoke-free casino on the south side of U.S. 90 in Gulfport, adjacent to the Beach Tower at Island View Casino. A $30 million permit issued to Roy Anderson Corp. moves the project from site preparation to construction. The casino is scheduled to open next summer with a show bar, a new restaurant and a wall of windows overlooking the water. New commercial development totals $32.4 million on the Coast.
Tax revenue remains down at budget year's close
The state ended another dismal budget year June 30, with tax collections $20 million below the previous year -- the second year in a row the state has collected less taxes than the prior one. All told, tax collections fell $169.4 million short of the projections used to set last year's budget, Department of Revenue figures show. But Gov. Phil Bryant is not expected to have to dip further into the state's rainy day fund to balance the now-ended fiscal 2017 budget. Other revenue, including lawsuit settlements brought in by Attorney General Jim Hood, four rounds of emergency mid-year cuts totaling $170 million and pulling $11 million from the rainy day fund earlier are expected to have the budget ending in the black. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday that despite tax shortfalls, counting all "government receipts" the state took in $60 million more than fiscal 2016.
Months later, no decision on Mississippi online tax plan
Months after Mississippi's top tax official proposed requiring large online sellers to collect taxes on internet sales, he still hasn't enacted the rule. Revenue Commissioner Herb Frierson is still considering the proposal, spokeswoman Kathy Waterbury said Wednesday. "The reason the rule remains under consideration is that we're working on getting it right," Waterbury told The Associated Press. Frierson has acknowledged that the rule would directly challenge U.S. Supreme Court rulings forbidding states from requiring tax collections by companies without in-state locations. He has said the move aims to spark court reconsideration of past rulings. Alabama, Tennessee, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Vermont and Wyoming have all pursued challenges against the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision that rejected tax collection by retailers with no in-state presence.
Kansas Republicans to Mississippi: Use us as a cautionary tale
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback beamed on MSNBC's Morning Joe program on June 19, 2012, just days after his state passed its largest-ever tax cut. "We'll see how it works. We'll have a real live experiment," said Brownback, a conservative Republican. "We're right next to some other states that haven't lowered taxes. ...You'll get the chance to see how this impacts the particular experimental area. I think Kansas is going to do well." Brownback's experiment failed, and his state's economy did not do well. Last month, the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature voted to undo most of his 2012 tax reform. As Mississippi begins implementing its largest-ever tax cut, which like the cuts in Kansas are projected to reduce the state's largest revenue source by hundreds of millions of dollars, Republicans in Kansas offer some words of advice and warning to Mississippians.
Mississippi demands $6.4M back from electric car maker, CEO
Mississippi's state auditor on Wednesday demanded that a troubled electric car maker or its leader repay $4.9 million in state and local aid the company received, plus $1.5 million of interest. Auditor Stacey Pickering issued the demand to GreenTech Automotive and its CEO, Charles Wang, saying the company has failed to live up to pledges to invest $60 million and create 350 jobs in Tunica County, just south of Memphis, Tennessee. GreenTech once planned to build 250,000 cars a year and invest $2 billion, but first sharply downsized its goals, and then failed to meet them, authorities said. In a July 2011 agreement, GreenTech promised to invest $60 million and hire 350 full-time workers by the end of 2014, paying each at least $35,000 and maintaining those jobs for at least 10 years.
Mississippi gave millions in BP funds to firm with ties to scrutinized contractor
Amy Whitten, a Mississippi attorney who received a subcontract with the state Department of Environmental Quality in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, shared her Ridgeland office address with two companies that also gained contracts related to the spill. One of the companies, Covington Civil and Environmental Engineering, received tens of millions of dollars in contracts related to the April 2010 BP oil spill. The other company, Adaptive Management Services, received a small contract before eventually subcontracting under Covington. Whitten, a longtime state contractor, has been called instrumental to the state's case against BP and settlement negotiations that ensued.
Steve Scalise back in ICU in 'serious' condition over infection concerns, hospital says
U.S. Majority Whip Steve Scalise is back in intensive care at MedStar Washington Hospital Center this week amid new concerns over infection, according to the hospital. Scalise, 51, suffered a near-fatal gunshot wound in a mass shooting during a Congressional baseball practice on June 14. On June 23, the hospital announced that his progress was improving and he was being moved out of the ICU. Scalise, a Jefferson Republican, is back in "serious" condition "due to new concerns for infection," the hospital said late Wednesday evening. Another update is expected Thursday. Scalise suffered a gunshot wound to his left hip when James "Tom" Hodgkinson opened fire on Republicans as they practiced for their annual charity baseball game against Democrats.
Work on USM Administration Building behind schedule, should be finished in October
University of Southern Mississippi officials said a project to repair the exterior of the Lucas Administration Building is about six months behind schedule, but should be wrapped up by mid-October. They said bad weather and delays in receiving some building materials has pushed back construction about 170 days. The $3.2 million dollar project began in September of 2015 and originally was on a 600 day schedule. "A lot of (the delay) has to do with rain days, but also, most of it has to do with terra cotta fabrication and delivery," said Chris Crenshaw, assistant vice president for facilities, planning and management at USM. "There are only two terra cotta fabrication plants in the United States and so, they can get backed up and that's kind of what happened to us." Southern Miss is also completing work on two new parking lots west of Ross Boulevard that will add about 230 parking places.
USM makes waves graduating first Unmanned Maritime Systems class in U.S. history
It has been said that the ocean is the last frontier for exploration on earth. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, only about five percent of the ocean has been explored. And just as aerial drones have revolutionized flight, underwater robotic vehicles are revolutionizing ocean research, defense and natural resources exploration. But, until recently, there was no certification program in the U.S. to train people to operate unmanned maritime systems. That is why a June 1 graduation of 15 students from an intensive, five-week course at the University of Southern Mississippi was considered to be historically significant. Rear Admiral Timothy Gallaudet, who was present for the graduation, likened the achievement to what NASA did with the first spaceflight.
MCC's Angela Payne graduates from Mississippi Community College Leadership Academy
Meridian Community College Director of Admissions Dr. Angela Payne was one of 37 members of the graduating class of the Mississippi Community College Leadership Academy. The Mississippi Community College Leadership Academy was developed in the spring of 2009 to address the projected need for upper-level leaders in the Mississippi community college system. The academy's term is a year-long investment, meeting from June to May. The Mississippi Community College Leadership Academy graduation ceremony was held at Mississippi State University with Dr. Mark Keenum, MSU president, as the guest speaker.
U. of Alabama increases parking fees by $20 to $30 more
Parking permit prices for students, staff and faculty at the University of Alabama will increase 5-6 percent again for the upcoming academic year. The increases beginning this fall range from $20 to $30. The cost of the permits has increased about 25 to 30 percent since 2013, with the exception of motorcycle permits. The funds will go toward maintenance and operating costs for the parking facilities, campus buses, student services and road paving, said Chris D'Esposito, transportation services director. Perimeter and handicap permits will increase by $20 to a total of $220. Student commuter permits and green permits for faculty and staff will increase by $20 to $325. Student residential permits will increase by $20 to $380. Reserve permits will increase by $30 to $630. Rose Administration reserve permits for faculty and staff will increase by $30 to $650. Motorcycle permits will remain at $75 for the academic year.
UGA will open Sanford Stadium for Aug. 21 eclipse
The University of Georgia will open up Sanford Stadium for people to see the total eclipse of the sun coming Aug. 21. The first 5,000 people who come to the "Eclipse Blackout" will get free viewing glasses, and concessions will be available, according to a UGA Department of Geography's tweet of a poster advertising the event. The stadium will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. with peak darkness arriving at 2:38 p.m. Athens is not in the path of total darkness -- that's slightly to the north in places such as Hartwell. The eclipse begins and ends over the sea, but the path of total eclipse on land will begin around Salem, Ore., then move east and south across the entire continental United States to Charleston, S.C. But it's still going to be spectacular in Athens, which will see a 99.1 percent eclipse.
Look inside the U. of Tennessee's new $114M science building
A visualization lab with feeds from NASA's Mission Control Center and an outdoor rock garden featuring boulders from around Appalachia are two of the interactive features that will greet students at Strong Hall at the University of Tennessee this fall. The 268,000-square-foot, $114 million hall opened on June 1, though final touches are still being put in place as the university gears up for the complete use of what it expects to be its most trafficked academic building. "We wanted it to be a really interactive building," said UT Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Services Dave Irvin. "It was about figuring out ways to do things so that students aren't just studying from a book." Overall, the building represents $114 million in new construction, funded with $72.25 from the state and $38.75 in university funds primarily collected through student facilities fees.
With more cuts to U. of Missouri System, academic programs under review
University of Missouri System and campus leaders will spend the coming weeks reviewing the future of two planned partnerships and developing a long-term budget strategy that will address $11 million in cuts to core funding. The review is a response to withholdings ordered by Gov. Eric Greitens last week. In a statement released Wednesday, UM System President Mun Choi announced that a MU Medical School expansion in Springfield and a University of Missouri Kansas City pharmacy program partnership with Missouri State University will be reviewed to assess the long-term sustainability of these programs.
Texas A&M graduates tied for most Fortune 500 CEOs
Texas A&M graduates are tied for the most Fortune 500 company CEOs, alongside the University of Michigan, the university said Monday. According to a list compiled by U.S. News and World Reports, the two universities top the list of colleges attended by Fortune 500 CEOs with four each. Texas A&M president Michael K. Young said in a statement he believes the ranking "once again proves that Texas A&M has an outstanding record of preparing graduates for the workplace, and that we are a university that produces leaders." The most prominent Aggie on the 2017 Fortune 500 list is class of '87 electrical engineering graduate Darren Woods, CEO and chairman of Exxon Mobil.
Silence From the Secretary, Despite Major Rules Changes
It has been a month since Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has spoken publicly about higher education. During a U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on June 6, Ms. DeVos spoke in support of the Trump administration's budget. Senators from both sides of the aisle criticized the proposal, which calls for steep cuts to a range of education programs, as "difficult" to defend. Still, Ms. DeVos fielded questions from the lawmakers for more than two hours. Since the hearing, the Education Department has announced major changes. On June 14, Ms. DeVos announced the delay and renegotiation of two key Obama-era consumer regulations aimed at reining in abuses by for-profit colleges. And later in the month, speaking at a closed meeting of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the secretary suggested that higher education's foundational law should be scrapped. Throughout that time, however, there has been a public silence from Ms. DeVos.
Senate health-care bill is bad news for teaching hospitals and universities, groups say
When states began opting in to Medicaid expansion after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, among the beneficiaries were the teaching hospitals that train doctors and nurses and serve a disproportionate share of low-income patients. But if the U.S. Senate's proposal to replace the ACA goes through, higher education groups say, those teaching institutions could take a large hit to their bottom lines because of serious Medicaid cuts. In addition, the pressures those reductions would put on state budgets likely will lead to less support of public higher education, the groups warned. Higher education groups also told lawmakers the proposal would have adverse consequences for overall state budget contributions.
AG Jim Hood could face push back over religious freedom bill in bid for governor
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal's Bobby Harrison writes: "If Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood opts to try to break the Republican's 16-year lock on the Governor's Mansion in 2019, most likely one of the first campaign ads used against him will be based on his decision to stop his legal defense of the controversial Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act. The religious freedom bill, designed to allow both government officials and private business owners not to provide services to same-sex couples, was re-instated by a three judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals late last month after it was blocked in June 2016 by U.S. Judge Carlton Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi."

Player representatives set for SEC Media Days
For many, the unofficial start to college football season begins next week with SEC Media Days. A list of players from the 14 member institutions was revealed on Wednesday. Three seniors will represent Mississippi State in wide receiver Donald Gray, offensive lineman Martinas Rankin and linebacker Dez Harris. Those players will join Dan Mullen on Tuesday, July 11.
Gabe Jackson feels the love -- $56 million worth
Mississippi syndicated sports columnist Rick Cleveland writes: "Gabe Jackson, underrated for much of his football career, just became appreciated for how good he really is. Here's appreciation: The Oakland Raiders have agreed to pay him $56 million over the next five seasons. That's $11.2 million per year. That's $933,000 per month, $700,000 per regular season game. That's also $164,706 per pound, which is a lot even considering that Gabe Jackson, from Amite County by way of Mississippi State, weighs 340. Yes, the Oakland Raiders appreciate Jackson, the 25-year-old human bulldozer, once considered either a two-star or three-star college prospect and a player who lasted until the 66th pick (third round) of the NFL Draft. All his career, until now, Jackson has been underrated, and to hear him tell it, that's never bothered him one bit."
Hattiesburg regional a hit with fans, AD Jon Gilbert says
After 14 years without postseason play at Pete Taylor Park, baseball fans were eager to take in the NCAA Tournament's Hattiesburg regional. Despite multiple days' worth of inclement weather, the regional that included host Southern Miss, Mississippi State, South Alabama and Chicago-Illinois, drew an average of 4,221 fans for each of the seven games. That figure, as well as the total draw of 29,550, ranked fourth out of the NCAA's 16 regional tournaments this year. Southern Miss athletic director Jon Gilbert, who was hired in January, said the school profited from the event. "While it was an NCAA event that we hosted, we do get an honorarium from hosting it," he told the Hattiesburg American. "We get to keep the parking revenue and concessions. Although those numbers are not finalized, we will make some money. Just based on the attendance, we did well."

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