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Speech receives mixed reviews from lawmakers

Area lawmakers’ responses to Gov. Haley Barbour’s State of theState address Monday was as mixed as their support for variouscontroversial issues being debated this session.

“I thought it was excellent. I think he told it like it is,”said District 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett, a fellow Republican.

However, District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, opposednearly every aspect of governor’s agenda.

The governor, who ran on a platform of not raising taxes,maintained his opposition to a bill that passed the Senate Fridaythat would raise cigarette taxes while lowering grocery taxes. Thecigarette tax was one area where the Republicans parted ways.

“I disagree with him on that,” Barnett said. “I want a cigarettetax to raise revenue and, maybe, to stop some people fromsmoking.”

Mississippi has the third lowest tax on cigarettes, Barnettsaid, so there is room to raise taxes there without placing anundue burden of state residents. In addition, Barnett said he wouldlike to see the grocery tax disappear eventually, but added thatthis may not be the best year to do that with the financialuncertainty caused by Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of the GulfCoast.

“I’m for the grocery tax reduction if we can make it revenueneutral, but we need every cent we can get this year,” he said. “Ifany tax should be reduced, it should be the grocery tax.”

Moak said the tax shift should be taken up today in the HouseWays and Means Committee and he intends to support it.

“It’s the first time since I’ve been in the Legislature thatwe’ll have the opportunity to look at the tax structure,” he said.”It’s not so much about the numbers, but an overall philosophicalapproach to the tax code. My core belief on that has not changed.The tax burden is placed more squarely on our middle-incomebase.”

Moak said he and several other legislators “instituted a revoltand held the committee hostage for a day” around 1990 in a failedattempt to get them to address the state’s tax code.

“It’s finally a shot we’re going to get to take at it,” he said.”This is a step to taking a look at our overall tax structure.”

Barbour also said he was opposed to state funding for a1,700-acre industrial park being pushed by Pontotoc, Union and Leecounties. The three counties are seeking $14.5 million in bondsfrom the state to fund the park, which they believe would help lurean automobile manufacturer to Mississippi and replace furnituremanufacturing jobs being lost in the area.

“I’m very opposed to it,” Barnett said. “Brookhaven and LincolnCounty are paying for our industrial park. Those counties arerelatively wealthy counties and they can also pay for theirs. Ispoke against it and I’ll do it again if I have to.”

Moak voted in favor of state funding for the Wellspring project.It passed the House Friday.

Moak cited the Mississippi School of the Arts in discussing hissupport for the north Mississippi project. He said both claim tobenefit the state.

While not stating specific amounts, Moak said the state hasbonded more money for the Mississippi School of the Arts than ithas appropriated for the school in its three years ofexistence.

Moak said fellow lawmakers had supported the school fundingrequests. Therefore, he said, voting against Wellspring would puthim in an awkward position.

The governor did support a bill that passed the House onWednesday to raise the salaries of state employees this session.Both Moak and Barnett supported the bill despite the budgetuncertainty.

“It was long overdue,” Barnett said.