As Speculation Swirls, Musgrove Quiet On Special Session

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove is mum about possible plans for an economic development special session, despite lawmakers' widespread speculation about returning to the Capitol as soon as next week.

"We will announce a special session at an appropriate time, in short order, when it is needed,'' Musgrove said Wednesday.

Reporters repeatedly asked Musgrove about negotiations over an economic development project, but he would not give details.

"It's our policy not to discuss specific projects,'' Musgrove said.

Several Jones County education and economic development leaders milled about at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon. Some said they were waiting for an economic announcement from the governor, but no announcement came Tuesday or Wednesday.

Rep. Bobby Shows, D-Ellisville, who was with the group, confirmed Wednesday that there have been talks about a project involving Howard Industries Inc., a Laurel-based company that makes computers, transformers, ballasts and transportation equipment. Shows, however, would not disclose any details about whether Howard will create new jobs or what kind of assistance it might want from the state.

"I don't want to be quoted too much on this,'' he said.

Howard Industries executives did not return calls Wednesday. Mitch Stennett, president of the Jones County Economic Development Authority, also did not return calls.

Jones County Junior College President Ronald Whitehead was among those at the Capitol Tuesday. He said he was already in Jackson for another meeting and was told the governor might have a news conference about a project for the county.

"I had been informed there was a possibility of an announcement and so I came to the Capitol, and there wasn't an announcement so I came home,'' Whitehead said Wednesday.

He said he was not privy to negotiations with the state.

Musgrove said neither he nor his staff asked anyone to be at the Capitol Tuesday for any kind of announcement. Some high-ranking lawmakers, who asked not to be identified, said they had been told to expect an economic development special session next week. Musgrove has already said he might call a special session later this summer to help doctors who are having trouble buying malpractice insurance.

On Wednesday, he said at least one session is possible on a range of topics - other civil justice changes, private prison contracts, Medicaid funding, economic development. He said questions about the timing of sessions are "hypothetical.''

The state Department of Corrections earlier this month canceled prison management contracts with private companies, saying the state had no money for the contracts because Musgrove had vetoed part of the agency's budget bill dealing with private prisons. Musgrove has been negotiating with private prison officials, and says he thinks he can save the state $6 million to $12 million on new contracts.

"The talks have been very productive and we are about ready to have an announcement,'' Musgrove said Wednesday.

Private companies manage prisons in Marshall, Leflore, Wilkinson, Lauderdale and Leake counties. Musgrove would not say whether the state might take over management of one or more of those facilities.

"We'll have an announcement to let everyone know that,'' he said.

Asked if private prison employees should be worried about their jobs, Musgrove said:

"We'll have an announcement on what we're going to do.''