By NATHAN GREGORY
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann spoke to a gathering at Starkville Country Club Wednesday on a study group he has formed to establish what he is calling the College Private Research Incentive Act.
The act, he said, is designed to encourage private investment in Mississippi’s institutions of higher learning by offering a tax credit to participating businesses. Investing can be conducted through universities in Mississippi for students to conduct technology-based research and development. Hosemann said the act provides businesses with advanced technology, which will spur job creation and increase the amount of private research funding going toward state institutions, including Mississippi State University, which will reduce financial strain as a result of decreases in federal funding.
“About two years ago I recognized that universities were losing earmarks in federal funds. As the national economy has waned we find that there’s less and less money available for federal dollars for research. In addition to that, the cost for students has risen steadily. The budget for the state of Mississippi has been reduced by about half a billion dollars, so you’re seeing a decrease in funding available to the universities, not that the legislation doesn’t think they’re worth it, (but) they just don’t have the money and we have to have a balanced budget,” Hosemann said after his appearance. “As part of that we have proposed a college private research incentive. If any private industry signs a written research agreement with a university … they would get a 10 percent tax credit for doing that. Our goal was to monetize the intellectual property at universities … that gives students jobs … and it gives money to the universities and it ties businesses into the universities.”
Hosemann said he has spoken with Mississippi Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds as well as representatives from the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi and said the entities have reached an accord needed to “supplement our income stream.”
Hosemann also discussed other state issues after his appearance, including the current status of Mississippi’s voter identification law, which passed with 62 percent of the statewide vote last November. The law, which is pending approval before U.S. District Court, requires voters to display a government-issued photograph before they are able to cast their ballots.
Similar voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina have been rejected by the Justice Department.
Hosemann said he has monitored the court’s reasons for denying those laws, such as expenses, charges for birth certificates and name changes, and is seeing to it that it cannot deny Mississippi’s voter ID law for failing in any of those areas.
I was pleased that all of the things they cited in Texas as being derogatory for approval are already in the making for Mississippi. We’re going to have all 82 circuit clerks have cameras so you don’t have to go any further than down the street to get your ID. They’ll be able to look up your birth certificate in the entire nation for free,” Hosemann said. “We’re working on a transportation plan. We’re issuing ID cards for free. We’re going through a lot of steps to make sure that we have overcome any of the objections that the Department of Justice would have to pre-clearing us.”
Should the court still not approve the law, Hosemann said the state is prepared to appeal the decision before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“You can tell by the detail we’re going into here that we have a game plan. We monitored the Texas case. We monitored the South Carolina case,” he said. “We’ve got all of their experts and everything. We want to have ours where we don’t have any reason for anybody to object to it.”
Hosemann also discussed recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast following the remnants of Hurricane Isaac. He said he personally rented trucks to be transported to Picayune and delivered basic goods to residents whose homes had been destroyed by flooding. While no massive infrastructure loss was received as a result of the storm, he said, visiting Picayune and Jackson County gave him perspective on the amount of families whose homes were damaged beyond repair by the amount of rain sustained there and in other areas of the state.
“We picked up donated food and took it down there and that gave me a really good view of what was going on down there. Those people are just as devastated as (victims of Hurricane) Katrina because there are houses completely gone. It’s not as economically damaging … but the people who are affected are terribly affected,” Hosemann said.
He said both the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency worked very well in bring relief to areas affected by Isaac.
“We are experts in disasters and MEMA did a very good job. FEMA did, too. They moved into Pearl about Monday and as soon as the storm was through they all went down to the coast. They were very responsive. We didn’t see anything like the Katrina operation. It was very effective,” Hosemann said. “Going forward there are going to be funds available to buy out these homes that got flooded. I’m very encouraged that those funds will be available and people would take advantage of them. It’s just too expensive and too disruptive to go back into a place that may flood next August again.”
Despite massive flooding in parts of the state, recovery from Isaac should be relatively timely, he said.