Mississippi State Senate committee begins stimulus spending work


A special senate sub-comittee recently began studying how best to spend $1.8 bil­lion in federal pandemic stimulus funds Missis­sippi is receiving as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.

“Never before in the history of Mississippi have we had an opportu­nity like this is going to provide,” Lt. Gov. Del­bert Hosemann, who oversees the Senate, told the committee. City and county governments are receiving about $900 million in ARPA money, and Hosemann has pro­posed using much of the state’s share to match the local spending and fund larger projects.

A representative of the National Conference of State Legislatures told the new committee that at least six states have created ARPA matching funds for local govern­ments for water, sewer­age and other projects.

In a daylong hearing, the committee heard from officials from Louisiana and Tennessee — neighboring states that have already spent or earmarked much of the billions they re­ceived — and from state budget and audit offi­cials on what the rules are for the spending the money.

“We spent about half of our $3 billion this year, and will spend half next year,” said Louisiana state Sen. Mack “Bodi” White. “We wanted to see how things go (before spend­ing the rest).”

Louisiana has ear­marked about $300 mil­lion for water and sewer infrastructure projects statewide, and has cre­ated a commission to work out details of the projects. It’s also spend­ing millions on tourism, ports and health care, in­cluding extra pay to re­cruit and retain nurses. Although ARPA money can’t go directly to road and bridge projects, it can be used to replace lost revenue, and White said Louisiana is using $600 million to replace pandemic losses in its roadbuilding fund.

Tony Niknejad, policy director for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, joined the Mississippi subcommit­tee via videoconference on Monday. He said Lee, working with lawmakers, created a Financial Stim­ulus Accountability Group to help guide spending Tennessee’s $3.9 billion in ARPA money coming to the state and $2.28 billion to local governments.

Tennessee has ear­marked more than $1.3 billion for water and sewer infrastructure projects, including $1 billion to match projects local governments are funding with ARPA. Ten­nessee is also spending about $500 million on broadband expansion and millions to help tourism and agriculture.

Mississippi State Audi­tor Shad White told the new Senate committee his office will provide any help it can in keep­ing state and local gov­ernments within the rules on spending.

“I’ve been telling (local officials) at the end of the day, we’re not the bad guys you need to worry about,” White said. “The bad guys will be from the (federal) Of­fice of Inspector Gen­eral.”

Sen. John Polk, R-Hat­tiesburg, is chairing the Senate Appropriations ARPA Subcommittee. He said he plans to have multiple meetings be­fore the end of the year, and present its findings and recommendations to the Senate before the state’s legislative ses­sion begins in January.

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