The Senate Finance Committee this week stripped the proposed $7 million for casino counties out of House Bill 1630 and directed all of the $36 million to used to back bonds to build and repair bridges throughout the state.
Five senators — Tommy Gollott, R-Biloxi; Philip Moran, R-Kiln; Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport; Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula; and Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula — voted against cutting the money to those counties that have casinos in them. Among the 46 who voted for the amendment to remove the $7 million from casino counties were local senators Angela Burkes Hill, R-Picayune; Philip Gandy, R-Waynesboro; Billy Hudson, R-Hattiesburg; Tony Smith, R-Poplarville; and Deborah Dawkins, D-Pass Christian.
The only hope this year of getting any money to fund airport development and infrastructure repairs in Harrison, Hancock and other casino counties lies in a conference committee. If no consensus is reached before the session ends, the bill will die.
The House and Senate are millions of dollars apart. HB 1630 as it passed the House proposed sharing the $36 million — devoting $29 million each year to repay $400 million in bonds needed to repair and rebuild crumbling state bridges. The additional $7 million would go into a Gaming Economic Development Fund so the counties that supply services to the casinos would continue to benefit from the fund.
Mississippi’s Gaming Control Act requires that $36 million be set aside each year from the 12 percent tax casinos pay on gross casino revenue. The money was to be spent to improve roads and bridges “in and approaching” counties that are home to casinos.