Bryant Gets Bill Allowing Private Pay to MDA Chief

JEFF AMY | Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Private donors could again boost the salary of Mississippi's state economic development director, under a plan that House members sent Wednesday to Gov. Phil Bryant.

The House agreed to changes that the Senate made in House Bill 1349, allowing donations to increase pay to the chief of the Mississippi Development Authority. Right now, law caps the salary at $183,000 or 150 percent of the $122,000-a-year salary for the governor.

Private supplements had been allowed in the past, but were subsequently halted. Bryant supports resuming them, saying the state needs to pay more to attract a top-tier director.

Under the plan before Bryant, the state would pay $183,000, and private money would be added on top of that. Donors' names would be published to try to dispel rumors of favoritism

Opponents, though, questioned whether naming the donors was enough protection, or even desirable.

"It's an impropriety here, it seems like to me," Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville said, likening the bill to the question of whether a minister would give sermons against a rich man who funded the church.

Holland said he was in favor of paying more than $183,000, but said the state should use public funds.

"Are you telling me we can't pay with state funds the economic development director of the state? " Holland asked. "Bah, humbug."

Supporters conceded that they couldn't guarantee that donations wouldn't sway a director's judgment, but said it hadn't been a problem previously.

"I believe the individual they hire will have enough integrity and enough morals and enough honesty to take care of the entire state," said House Fees and Salaries Committee Chairman John Read, R-Gautier.

Read said that if the system did lead to wrongdoing, the state auditor and prosecutors should investigate.

The bill continues existing provisions that allow the governor to pay his chief of staff at the same 150 percent level. Bryant has chosen to pay $110,000, less than that cap, to Chief of Staff Kirk Sims.

The measure also allows raises for the salaries of some public defenders. Read said Bryant had asked for the language on the chief of staff and said public defenders had been inadvertently omitted from a previous bill which increases judge and prosecutor salaries.

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