Too many questions remain to override tax bill veto now

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, January 24, 2006

In considering whether to override Gov. Haley Barbour’s veto ofa bill to raise cigarette taxes while lowering those on groceries,lawmakers are now coming face to face with the merits and drawbacksof the controversial legislation.

The early days of the 2006 Legislative session saw the billbreeze by euphoric lawmakers eager to give state citizens relieffrom the highest grocery tax in the nation. At the same time, thebill would raise taxes on cigarettes in what supporters say wouldproduce a “revenue neutral” situation.

Barbour, however, said that situation is not possible and billopponents say citizens face the likelihood of higher taxeselsewhere – such as those on property and car tags – to offset thelost grocery tax revenue. The House has passed a bill to protectcities in the event of lost revenue.

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That a second bill was introduced to address problems with thefirst is evidence of the haste with which the tax shift bill wasapproved. Clearly, more thought and foresight were needed beforelegislation of this magnitude came to pass.

In last week’s DAILY LEADER online poll, 56.6 percent ofrespondents saw through the simple knee-jerk, feel-good reaction tolower grocery taxes and opposed the legislation. The voteacknowledges short-term stable funding needs for issues likeKatrina recovery and long-term concerns like the revenue impact onmunicipalities.

The Senate will be the first battleground in deciding whetherBarbour’s veto will be overridden. Some senators, includingBrookhaven’s Cindy Hyde-Smith, appear to be wavering in theirsupport of the tax shift measure.

If Barbour and his allies are unsuccessful in turning at leastthree senators and the veto is overridden, the battle will shift tothe House of Representatives. There, Bogue Chitto’s Bobby Moak isin favor of an override and Brookhaven’s Dr. Jim Barnett said he isleaning that way currently.

Given the conflicting projections regarding the bill’sramifications and the need for more study, sustaining Barbour’sveto is the prudent move now. Lawmakers can take up the measureagain next year after more pressing issues like funding forrebuilding after Katrina have been addressed.

While it is unappetizing for citizens to pay a high sales tax ongroceries, Mississippi and its cities must be able to count astable diet of funding to meet state and community needs. What isnot needed is to see that money go up in smoke because of a poorlyplanned piece of legislation.