The “cultural retail” tax incentive program has been a stinker of a deal for taxpayers, now made worse with a big dose of good-old Mississippi government secrecy.
It’s bad enough that taxpayers are subsidizing shopping centers in the name of tourism. But to have details of such largesse kept secret enters the realm of the absurd.
The Legislature in the early 2000s passed a sales tax rebate program aimed at luring major tourism projects such as museums, amusement parks, sports arenas, water parks and luxury hotels. It was used to help build the Trustmark Park baseball stadium. The program returns sales taxes to developers to refund up to 30 percent of a project’s construction price.
The theory was that the state would not otherwise land such large new tourism attractions, thus no taxes would be collected, so taxpayers had nothing to lose.
But in 2013, the Legislature in its infinite wisdom expanded the program to include “cultural retail” developments — shopping centers that include features that would supposedly lure tourists with unique Mississippi attractions. I picture a Piggly-Wiggly/Dollar General/Dirt Cheap center with the world’s largest velvet Elvis mural. Now that would be a regional attraction worth pumping some tax dollars into.
The new measure was aimed at helping the developers of an outlet mall that was already under construction in Pearl. To meet the “tourism” requirement, developers agreed to include a visitor center with arts and crafts for sale, a map of the state’s country music and blues trails and to pipe in music from Mississippi artists for shoppers. But mostly, it’s still just a shopping center built with tax dollars.