January 12, 2009 Rotogram

MISSISSIPPI’S BUSINESS CLIMATE

Blake Wilson, of the Mississippi Economic Council, gives his insight on the worldwide economic slump and its impact on Mississippi today.

MARTIN LUTHER KING HOLIDAY

We will not meet next week due to the holiday schedule.

BASEBALL IN THE AIR ON JAN. 26

With less than a month to go before baseball season, Coach John Cohen will bring us a preview of his first season at the Diamond Dogs’ helm.

LAST WEEK

Invocation and Pledge: Allan Tucker

Attendance: There were 132 members (40 exempt, 1 honorary) present, and 70 (16 exempt, 8 honorary) absent.

Guests and visitors: Bill Overstreet of West Point was our visiting Rotarian. Members’ guests were Chuck and Ensley Howell of Ben Howell, Ford Molen of Marshall Molen, Gabriella Davis of John Robert Arnold, Harry Freeman of Eddie Keith, Joe Geddie of Kim Richardson, Robyn Havard of Pat Colwick, and Rodney Foil of Nellah Taylor. Guests of the Club were Jarred Reneau, Ambassadorial Cultural Scholar,  Taka Sato, Youth Exchange Student, Paul Sims of the Starkville Daily News, and Paulo Salazar of WCBI.

Makeup reported:  David Boles made up in Aberdeen and in Kansas City.

Kudos:  President Chip thanked Brian Portera and his bell-ringers for volunteering at the Salvation Army kettle before Christmas.

The Mississippi State University Library, under Rotarian Frances Coleman’s leadership, was lauded for obtaining the papers of President U.S. Grant.

Roy Ruby was congratulated for his service as MSU’s interim president in a tough transition.

Prentiss Gordon made sure that the Club knew that Tommy Prentice, not he, was the Santa pretender pictured in December’s last Rotogram.

NEW MEMBER CLASSIFICATION TALKS

Amy Tuck, special assistant to the MSU president, said she’s happy to be home. The Maben native and MSU alumna has served in state government as lieutenant governor, secretary of the Senate, and as a senator.

Setting her high public profile in perspective, the Starkville Academy grad recounted the story of being greeted in a local store with the exclamation, “You used to be somebody!” On another occasion a student approached her on campus and excitedly exclaimed, “You went to school with my grandmother!”

Ben Howell, a local Edward Jones broker, noted his similarities to other recent new members. He also bleeds maroon and white like Amy Tuck. He cited Charlie Guest’s priority of family and faith over career.

He particularly identifies with Les Potts’ “systematic rearrangement of tools” in his carpentry shop. Ben, who collects antique Mercedes cars, said, “I don’t know if I’m getting any of them fixed, but I’m collecting thousands of dollars of tools to work on them.”

And, like Jon Maynard, who jokingly questioned the value of an economic developer from Louisiana, Ben questioned his own credentials as a financial advisor from Pontotoc. However, the former Marine said he truly feels that he makes a difference in others’ lives.

RODEO

President Chip announced that the board had voted to direct the proceeds from the Third Annual Rotary Classic Rodeo to the Father’s Child Ministry. The rodeo committee chaired by Loren Zimmerman will be recruiting volunteers for the mid-February event.

BOARD ELECTION

Contrary to Lynne Richardson’s quandry, she was not not elected to the board. Her name was omitted from last week’s list of new board members. The editor apologizes for sloppy proof reading and welcomes her aboard.

MISSISSIPPI LEGISLATURE 2009

Mississippi’s legislature opens its 2009 session facing a $79 million shortfall in the current fiscal year.

State Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Alan Nunnelee brought a “good news—bad news” message about the state’s budget to our first meeting of the year.

He sees Mississippi being slower going into the economic downturn, and slower coming out. Our current shortfall is less than surrounding states and far less than California’s near-bankruptcy situation.

In the first six months of FY 09, the state brought in more money than in the same period the year before; however, it appears that the total year’s income will fall short of budget projections.

Nunnelee, vice president of Tupelo’s Allied Funeral Associates insurance company, invoked a bit of advice given him when he and his father started the company.

“Never ever lie or withhold information from your stockholders,” admonished his accountant.

“That’s also good advice about the stockholders of Mississippi,” said the 15-year senate veteran. “The most important thing those holding your checkbook can do is be honest with the men and women who pay the taxes.”

Governor Haley Barbour has activated $40 million in cost savings, but that leaves nearly as much to be dealt with in the current fiscal year.

Nunnelee said that last spring when the legislature filled-up the “rainy day fund” some pundits asked, “Why put good alfalfa hay in the barn when the cows are starving?”

Feeling vindicated in his and others’ decisions, he said, “Nobody could have envisioned $4.00-a-gallon gasoline, a national recession, or a manufacturing downturn.”

The legislature goes into this session with a $365 million fund. The debate will be over how to use that money. Nunnelee stands in the camp that says it is wise to plan for a 4-year recession and only use a quarter of the funds.

“I did read a book one time about a boy who said there’d be 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine,” he said.  “The wise business practice is to set aside resources in the plenty years and make sure we don’t use it all in the first year of famine.”

State budgeters are taking the same approach that families and small businesses are taking:

  1. Cut spending
  2. Draw down savings
  3. Get a part-time job

Although the state cannot get a part-time job, it can increase revenue in the form of a cigarette tax, probably around 50 cents per pack.

Nunnelee does not want to see all of that income go to cover the shortfall. He advocates using part of it in an incentive program of tax cuts for businesses to generate jobs.

“We will do all of this in a spirit of openness,” said Nunnelee. “The taxpayers should be better able to hold policymakers accountable.”

He cited Senate actions of the past 12 months that demonstrate a new transparency:

  1. All legislative proceedings are on the Internet.
  2. The state checkbook and contracts are online.
  3. The appropriations process will be finalized at mid-week, not overnight on a weekend.

Responding to a question about a possible Federal stimulus’ benefitting states, Nunnelee said, “We don’t know enough to really say. However, if it involves infrastructure, it’s wise; if it establishes ongoing costs, it’s unwise.”

Addressing higher education, he said it has been difficult getting answers about the impact of funding on tuition increases. He expressed hope that “under new leadership, we are going to have a lot better line of communication. I really look forward to working with Aubrey Lucas.”

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