Zombie incentives still eating Mississippi taxpayers alive

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Like a zombie, the “cultural retail attraction” sales tax rebate program keeps rising from the grave.

A development deal for a potential shopping center on land owned by the city of Jackson at the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport will be partially funded by state taxpayers under a program that expired in 2014.

The state approved the developer, Slidell, La.-based Freedom Real Estate LLC, to receive the sales tax rebate in 2014 just before the deadline for applications expired. The maximum rebate that could be awarded to Freedom’s Pinelands Lifestyle Center is more than $48 million, according to data provided by the Mississippi Development Authority.

Under the “cultural retail attraction” program, Mississippi returns 80 percent of the sales tax revenue to the developer until the total reaches 30 percent of construction costs. Each “attraction” has to offer either $1 million worth of Mississippi art, historic markers or audio-visual equipment or host space for the MDA for 10 years for tourism promotion purposes. If all of the five projects authorized by the MDA under the program collect their maximum subsidies, state taxpayers could pay more than $230 million.

The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority’s Board of Commissioners voted to approve a deal with Freedom Real Estate LLC in December to lease the land, located north of the airport in the city of Flowood. Freedom would lease the land from the JMAA for 40 years for an amount determined by a property value appraisal that will take place after the contract is exercised.

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