Rep. Robert Foster introduced Joint Resolution 1 yesterday. This would open the door for competitive bidding for press space that is currently housed on the 4th floor of the state Capitol.
You may remember that many of the occupants of the press room (Clarion Ledger, AP, and NE MS Daily Journal among others) have regularly derided House and Senate members over campaign finance and getting “sweetheart” deals from the state. One such article last year was Geoff Pender’s article about the “Camper Caucus” consisting of lawmakers who camped bumper pull trailers at the plush and opulent confines of the Mississippi State Fairgrounds during the session.
Lawmakers are paying $175 a month to camp on the fairgrounds for the four-month session. This includes the spot, electricity and water and sewerage. Calls from The Clarion-Ledger to the fairgrounds from early January through last week indicate that deal is not available to the public. Fairgrounds staff said public RV space rental is only available short-term during special events, such as the Dixie National Rodeo, and there is no monthly or long-term rate available to the public.
The standard, nightly rental rate for a fairgrounds camper spot for the public — according to staff and fairgrounds publications — ranges from $20 a night to $50 a night, depending on the amount of electricity an RV or camper draws.
The 2016 legislative session is scheduled to last 111 days, through April 24. That would break down to a cost of $6.30 a night for legislators who keep their campers there for the session. But some note they typically only stay in town four nights a week, and they shut off their power, water and sewerage when they leave.
Foster, a member of the Camper Caucus, started looking at the “sweetheart deal” that media companies get from the state Capitol. Foster measured the spaces assigned to the media outlets and asked the Department of Finance and Administration what fair market value was for the space (to include space, utilities, maintenance, etc.). According to DFA, fair market rent for that space is likely at least $20/square foot. Add parking privileges, which lobbyists and others with business at the Capitol would gladly pay top dollar for, and you’re talking about a LOT more.
Here’s a list of the current occupants and what they pay (according to Rep. Robert Foster).
Clarion Ledger occupies 120 square feet. They pay $75/month or $900/year. Fair market rent @ $20/sf is $2400/year + parking. Gannett, which owns Clarion Ledger, made $193 million in profits on $2.8 billion in revenue in 2015.
The Associated Press occupies 120 square feet. They pay $0. Fair market rent is $2400/year + parking.
The NE MS Daily Journal occupies 45 square feet. They pay $0. Fair market rent is $900/year + parking. NE MS Daily Journal is owned by the non profit Create Foundation which had revenues of $14 million and assets at the end of 2015 of $89 million.
Mississippi Today has 30 square feet. They pay $0. Fair market rent is $600/year + parking. MS Today is owned by the Mississippi News and Information Corporation (a non-profit). Guidestar shows multi-million assets, though they’ve not yet been due to file a form 990 disclosure.
Sun Herald has 30 square feet and pays $75/month. Fair market rent is $600/year + parking.
The Commercial Dispatch has 30 square feet and pays $0/month. Fair market rent is $600/year + parking.
Jackson Free Press has 35 square feet and pays $0/month. Fair market rent is $700/year + parking.
There are other assorted TV stations including MS Public Broadcasting that share some space as well rent-free.
The solution in JR1 is to allow the House Management and Senate Rules Committee to bid the space out and/or to reallocate it to current House/Senate needs. Speaking as the owner of a media outlet, I’ve never been invited by the press elite to take up shop in the Capitol, but Jackson New Media, Inc. (owner of Y’all Politics), a raging for-profit company, would absolutely bid on choice space in the state Capitol to locate and embed a full time reporter. We would absolutely throw our hat in that ring.
This will be interesting to watch for sure. Congrats, Rep Foster. You’ve authored our #msleg . . . . #billoftheday.