Yesterday, Jackson Jambalaya uncovered deep in the bowels of the MS legislative process a bill that on its face has a pretty noble goal – to help connect those without high school degrees to GED programs and real vocational opportunities. The MI-BEST program (Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) is typically carried at the Community College level and is the sort of programming need to bridge the gap between high school dropouts to achieve meaningful workforce training.
For the last year, one of its larger proponents has been disgraced judicial bribery mastermind Dickie Scruggs. His non profit organization (NPO), 2nd Chance Mississippi, has been on a barnstorming tour of Rotary Clubs, and gained predictably fawning local newspaper, statewide newspaper and print publication coverage along with puff piece TV/radio programs statewide promoting his NPO’s role in helping to provide financial support to students seeking participation in the MI-BEST program. And he’s assembled an all-star cast of donors/advisors including actor Morgan Freeman, Archie Manning, Robert Khayat, State Senator Sally Doty and even the consigliere himself, former Attorney General Mike Moore.
So far, so good.
Well, then House Bill 1615 came into focus. For anyone who was skeptical that there may have been something a tad bit self-serving about this professionally-fueled PR tour, your suspicions appear to be confirmed. Inside the bill we find . . .
There shall be a credit against the taxes imposed by this chapter in the amount of contributions made by a taxpayer to a qualified Mississippi nonprofit organization created to serve the state community and junior college system in nonprofit endeavors that are made to support the Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (MI-BEST) model program. The amount of the credit claimed by a taxpayer shall not exceed One Million Dollars ($1,000,000.00) in any taxable year. In order to qualify for the tax credit authorized by this section, the contributions shall be made to a nonprofit organization approved by the Mississippi Community College Board to match state-appropriated funds.
So apparently, in addition to having a federal write off as 2nd Chance MS is a 501c3, they now want essentially a huge state write off as well with a state tax credit that could cumulatively remove tens of millions from the general fund for the specific benefit of a handful of wealthy magnates.
Fortunately, the great Steve Martin describes who qualifies for the tax credit in greater detail.
The bill passed the House without a dissenting vote and movement conservatives there must be soiling themselves. I talked to a couple that was just told that the bill benefitted the program but was not sold on the basis that there was one NPO on planet Earth that would qualify. And furthermore that said NPO would be run by a mega-wealthy felon who bragged about “magical jurisdictions” was twice convicted for bribing judges in Mississippi. It just offends the conscience at a visceral level.
I think the program the Scruggs have embarked on is a great thing. I see it working with businesses around the state. And I’m a believer in tax credits. When structured correctly, it’s a good way to get businesses involved with private capital to help meaningfully effect legitimate public policy goals. But this is exactly the kind of gamesmanship you thought you’d see from these guys – It’s is too naked . . . too “in your face”, and Tate Reeves should quadruple refer this bill and make sure it never sees the light of day in the Senate.
On a personal level, having written Kings of Tort about the Scruggs judicial bribery scandal, I’ll say two things. First, my only hope for all involved is that they live out their days as better men after the mess they created for themselves, their profession and their state. And for the most part, most of them have. Second, I told probably 8,000 people in over 80 events in 7 states over three years of promoting the book the following . . . “The Scruggs will be back. You haven’t heard the last of them yet. The comeback tour is coming and it’s inevitable. It will be fueled with professional PR and a fawning press, but you will hear from them again and they will try to make it on their own terms.” So far, I’m (unfortunately) batting 1.000.
So, way to go Dick. Your the focus of our #msleg . . . #billoftheday.