U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson is developing draft language in search of up to $200 million in federal funds for the City of Jackson’s ailing water system, according to a Sept. 21, 2022, report in POLITICO. Thompson’s plan could potentially bypass the State of Mississippi and send the money directly to the City for repairs and upgrades to the Jackson water system.
Congressman Bennie Thompson is seeking up to $200 million in direct federal funding for the City of Jackson to address its beleaguered water system, potentially bypassing the State of Mississippi entirely.
POLITICO’s Annie Snider first reported the draft document, which contains language that would divert the money through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and to the City of Jackson. Typically, federal funding for water systems is delivered through state revolving loans funds, or SRFs. These low-interest loans are managed at the state level and are limited in scope.
Earlier this month, Thompson excoriated state leadership for their management of the delivery of American Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds in an interview with CNN’s Ana Cabrera.
“The barrier is somehow our state officials feel that they know what’s best for local government. Jackson is the only local government that’s being treated differently from other local governments,” Thompson said. “Jackson is the capital. Everything revolves around the capital city, so it’s to everyone’s advantage for the capital city to work. And what we have is a reluctant office of the governor who’s decided that for whatever reason, Jackson would be treated differently.”
State and local officials agree that the total cost of shoring up the Jackson water system and fixing its vast and ancient distribution system will require roughly a $1 billion total investment.
The ‘Paternalistic’ State
Rep. Thompson’s comments echo those of Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba, who has often complained of the Mississippi Legislature’s “paternalistic” authority over infrastructure funds, both those derived from the federal government and from Jackson’s own citizens.
“We not only have to go through the regular proposals, but once that’s accepted, we have to go through (the Department of Finance and Administration),” Lumumba said this April in an interview with Mississippi Today. He added that Jackson is the “only city to have commissions” to oversee state support.
City leaders, including former Mayor Harvey Johnson, have repeatedly criticized the composition of Jackson’s 1% Sales Tax Commission, which oversees the allocation of infrastructure funding derived from a one cent sales tax in the city. The City itself appoints only a minority of that commission’s members, with state leaders and the Chamber of Commerce appointing the rest.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, for his part, took credit on the part of the State for precisely this funding at a joint press conference with Lumumba and Environmental Protection Agency Director Michael Regan earlier this month.
“The state has spent about $200 million in the city over the last five or six years,” Reeves said then. The governor’s office later confirmed to WLBT that the governor was referring in part to $86.7 million obtained through Jackson’s own sales tax and $42 million the State sent to the City from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act.