Miss. Furniture Makers Want To Meet With Governor

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Mississippi furniture makers have shed about 1,000 jobs since Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed a tax incentive bill in April and industry leaders want a meeting with the governor to address their troubles.

Furniture Association president Ken Pruett said Wednesday that furniture makers, based largely in the northern part of the state, have seen a $139 million drop in payroll since the April 6 veto of a tax credit of $2,000 for each cut-and-sew job. He said the recent losses include about 400 cut-and-sew positions.

"We've got 50,000 Mississippi furniture families ... that were affected by the veto," he said. "We've got two companies that have already canceled their plans to expand so that they could have more cut-and-sew jobs and they're going to send those jobs to China."

Mississippi had 19,500 workers in furniture and related jobs in April, according to state employment figures.

While job losses can't be directly attributed to Barbour's veto, Pruett said that many people in the industry felt the veto "let the air out of our tires, so to speak."

Now, Pruett's group wants a meeting with Barbour to discuss the veto and ways to help save furniture jobs.

"We need to sit down and talk with the governor and make sure that we are on the same side," Pruett said. "Because if we don't, by the end of the year we will have lost another 500 or 600 cut-and-sew jobs and we would have lost another 1,500 or 2,000 total furniture jobs."

Barbour has said he vetoed the bill because of cost concerns and because some furniture industry officials were not sure the incentives would protect jobs.

No meeting is scheduled. But Laura Hipp, a spokeswoman for Barbour, said the governor and the Mississippi Development Authority are looking at available programs to help retain furniture jobs.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said the main problem with the vetoed tax incentive bill "was that the furniture industry was not united on that."

"I talked to some larger manufacturers who thought it would not be a help to them," Bryant said Tuesday. "Hopefully, the representatives that support that bill will go back to all of the furniture industry and look at some of the issues that existed and try that bill again."

Pruett said he thinks Barbour "got too busy or too tied up on some other things to know that he got some misguided information from industry leaders."

Pruett said it is costing Mississippi each day officials fail to address the job losses. The industry has a $1.5 billion impact in the state in payroll alone, he said.

The Mississippi Furniture Association began discussions with the governor over three years ago on a five-point incentive plan, which included the vetoed tax incentive, and Pruett said he felt then and still believes "Governor Barbour cares."

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