Photo Courtesy of the Pascagoula-Gautier School District.

Lt. Governor tells city leaders to plan now, don’t wait.

Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann is crisscrossing the state following the end of the 2021 legislative session, embarking on a listening tour to hear from Mississippians. He is also using the time to highlight the work by lawmakers and to look ahead to next year.

A major part of Hosemann’s message to local elected officials and business leaders is the need for cities and counties to begin now in planning how they will spend the federal dollars coming from D.C.’s recently passed $2 trillion American Rescue Plan.

“The state is going to get $1.8 billion, whether we asked for it or not. It’s coming in two traunches. We’ve got about 3 years and a half to spend it,” the Lt. Governor told attendees at a stop in Pascagoula on Wednesday. “Cities got $932 million. It is direct check payments to the entities I’m describing.”

Hosemann also mentioned the ongoing discussions between Congress and the White House on an infrastructure bill that could range between $900 billion and $2 trillion.  Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker is playing a key role in these negotiations.

“So what does that mean to us? It means that for the first time ever we will have basically about twice what the budget is for the state for a whole year to spend,” Hosemann, adding that the state, counties and cities should be thinking long term on how to spend this money.

Hosemann told local leaders gathered at the new Pascagoula High School Performing Arts Center that the funds can only be spent on a limited number of projects, such as water and sewer improvements, economic development, and tourism. He expects further guidance and regulations to be handed down from the U.S. Department of Treasury soon.

“But if you are in a city or county, and you want to decide what you’re going to use your money for, the time to be planning is now,” Hosemann said.

The first term President of the Senate recognized the local delegation in attendance, which included State Senators Brice Wiggins, Jeremy England and Joseph Seymour as well as State Representatives Charles Busby and Manly Barton. He said these lawmakers and their colleagues will are preparing in the off season for the start of the 2022 session in January. Part of that work will be deciding how to spend the majority of these federal dollars.

The Lt. Governor wants to see the Legislature working closely with their local officials to make the biggest combined impact for the people.

“All of them [legislators] will be deciding how to spend this $1.8 billion and they need to do it in conjunction with what the cities have got planned for their money,” Hosemann said. “We will have a lot of immediacy needs. I want a park bench or something. That’s not long term.”

Hosemann said he understands that many local governments do not have the capacity in terms of staffing to spend such a large dollar amount in short order, which is why cities and counties need to be doing their planning now without delay. He said officials need to think and plan in terms of, “If I had this amount of money, what’s the best way to spend that money in January.”

Not only will Mississippi cities be competing for services in-state with other municipalities and even the state, but with other states. There are a limited number of engineers and other such services that can do this type of government work in the time necessary to expend these dollars.

“Our competition will also not only be within the state, but every other state got similar or more than we got, so they’re going to be doing the same thing we’re doing,” Hosemann said. “So we need to be out front and we need to be thinking long term.”

Overall, Hosemann said between direct education funding, mental health, housing assistance, unemployment compensation, and other areas Mississippi will receive nearly $9 billion.