The war over all things Costco continues as the Clarion-Ledger and Andrew Mattiace slug it out in the courtroom. The issue is pretty simple. Mr. Mattiace and his fellow developers want nearly $30 million in tourism sales tax rebates from the Mississippi Development Authority while the newspaper and this website think you have a right to know how your money is spent. If Mr. Mattiace wants to get his hands on the sales tax money, perhaps its times to dissect the tourism sales tax rebate program and see what exactly is in the MDA woodpile.
Section 57-28-3 of the Mississippi Code (2010) states:
incentive payments may be made by the MDA to an approved participant that incurs approved project costs to locate a tourism project in the state…
The aggregate amount of incentive payments that an approved participant may receive shall not exceed thirty percent (30%) of the approved project costs incurred by the approved participant for the tourism project.
Renaissance at Colony Park submitted an application to participate in the rebate program to the Mississippi Development Authority on December 23, 2013. The MDA approved Mr. Mattiace's application on June 10, 2014 and issued this certificate.
JJ and the Clarion-Ledger obtained copies of the certificate and the application through public records requests. Mr. Mattiace filed a petition to seal all MDA records concerning his application for the rebate on September 3, 2015 in Hinds County Chancery Court. Attorney Mark Garriga of Butler Snow represented Renaissance. Chancellor William Singletary cut to the chase and sealed Renaissance’s application and all supporting documents. Mr. Mattiace told the Northside Sun:
His opposition to the open records request for the details on Renaissance III are only to protect two aspects of the report: his financial information and his prospective client list.
His argument sounds reasonable as he just wants to keep other developers from poaching his project. It is safe to say that those requesting the applications do not want to see it happen. However, no one is asking for his trade secrets. Indeed, this correspondent and the newspaper want to see his project succeed. Mr. Mattiace told a different story to the judge than he told to the reporter. The developer told the court that the release of any documents would harm his ability to recruit tenants for the project and compete against other developers.
Mr. Mattiace forgets that the sales tax rebate he so desires is our money. The working people of Mississippi have a right to know how their money is spent and also have a right to hold their leaders accountable for the use of that money as well.
However, there is one little fact that is left out of the controversy over Renaissance’s application for nearly $30 million in sales tax rebates. The Clarion-Ledger reported on September 16 a story that sported the headline
Time ticking for Renaissance expansion on state tax rebate deal
The developer who hopes to build a Costco as part of the Renaissance expansion in Ridgeland and receive a $29.6 million tax rebate from the state has approximately nine months to buy land, build and complete a $98 million dollar project before his certificate expires and the rebate vanishes….
However, the rebate rests on a caveat. According to the certificate, Mattiace “must provide in writing to Authority and the State Tax Commission a certification of completion” within two years of the certificate issued date. Construction on the proposed site has yet to begin…
Um, that is not exactly the case. It is understandable that the reporter made such claims in the story if she only reviewed the certificate, application, and statute. However, MDA regulations that actually spell out the guidelines for the program and they have been virtually ignored by the media and Mattiace opponents during this entire controversy. Check out Mississippi Administrative Code Section 6-1:11.12:
Within three (3) months after the Completion Date, the Applicant must document the actual cost of the tourism project through a certification (Completion Certificate) of such costs by an independent certified public accountant or other independent party acceptable to the MDA. The Completion Date must be within 24 months following the Mississippi Tourism Rebate Program Certificate date, unless an extension is granted. The Approved Project Costs allowed for the tourism project will be the lesser of the actual costs as certified or the approved project cost provided on the application. Approved project costs may not increase regardless of the actual costs incurred by the project. (Emphasis added.)
“Unless an extension is granted” means MDA Executive Director Glen McCullough has the authority to extend the deadline for the completion of the Renaissance at Colony Park III project for so long as he so desires. The regulations do not even state any criteria for the extension of the deadline. The regulations impose no final deadline but instead leave that to the discretion of Mr. McCullough. Governor Bryant appointed Mr. McCullough. Jim Barksdale is a co-developer of the project and was a predecessor of Mr. McCullough under Governor Bryant. Thus there is no ticking because unknown to the state newspaper, there is apparently no clock.
Mr. Mattiace is thus doing the dirty work for everyone else – Barksdale, Bailey, McCullough, et al - by going to court and trying to seal every piece of paper concerning his application. The developers made no attempt to negotiate with JJ or the Clarion-Ledger. They never attempted to work out a solution with the media but instead chose to get a court order to swing as a club towards all opposition. Indeed, the statute says MDA can only seal the records for up to two years but Mr. Mattiace argued a few weeks ago in a court filing that the two-year clock reset each time he provided new information to MDA- thus ensuring the two-year deadline rolls on almost forever.
The goal of this joint exercise between Renaissance and MDA is to funnel nearly $30 million in sales tax money back to the developers of this project - developers who are very much connected to the highest levels of state government. Northside Sun publisher Wyatt Emmerich said Mr. Mattiace gave him a big hug when he met him for an interview and interpreted it a gesture of friendship. What is the saying about holding certain people closer?
It will be almost impossible to hold Mr. McCullough or his boss accountable for the rebate as Mr. Mattiace’s records will stay sealed behind an iron mask of cronyism. Any extensions granted to Mr. Mattiace will become a state secret. The project itself can change. Suppose MDA engages in some cronyism and approves changes to the application that don't meet the guidelinens? Who will know? This fight is not about discovering who the prospective tenants for Renaissance are. This fight is not about punishing Mr. Mattiace. This fight is about holding the leaders of the most corrupt state in America accountable for what they do with our money.
If Mr. Mattiace and his friends doesn’t want to be held to any scrutiny at all, there is a simple solution: Don’t ask us for our money.
The Web at Renaissance (Read the comments)
Clarion-Ledger challenges Mattiace in court.
STONEWALL!!! Mattiace seals records
12 applications for tourism sales tax rebates
Renaissance applied for sales tax rebates.
Mayor & Ridgeland residents spar over Costco.