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House members expect tough fight on tax bill

Area House members believe a bill to decrease the grocery taxwhile raising the tax on cigarettes should easily pass theirchamber, but they expect another tough fight to get it past thegovernor.

The Mississippi Senate Friday narrowly passed a compromise billthat would reduce the grocery tax from 7 percent to 3.5 percentwhile increasing the tax on cigarettes from 18 cents a pack to 80cents per pack on July 1. The cigarette tax would then be raised to$1 per pack next year.

A similar bill that would have eliminated the grocery tax overtime was rapidly approved in both chambers, but vetoed by Gov.Haley Barbour early in the session.

The Senate could not attain enough votes to override the vetoafter municipalities complained the elimination of the grocery taxwould severely impact their income and economic growth. The grocerytax is a substantial part of municipality budgets.

The new bill addresses those concerns, said District 53 Rep.Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto.

“The bill is designed to make sure they have growth of revenue.It is a tax for cities,” he said.

Monticello Mayor Dave Nichols bristled at the idea that the newbill was designed for cities.

“The first bill was about politics. It was rushed through andvoted on at night to increase the visibility of a certain person.This bill is about saving face,” he said.

The bill is the first major break between fellow RepublicansBarbour and Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck. Some people have alleged that Tuckdevised the bill to increase her political visibility aspreparation for a run at governor. Tuck has served two terms aslieutenant governor and cannot seek a third term.

Nichols said he is still unsure whether to support the bill.

“The bill makes the cities whole and accounts for growth, but Ihave not heard if it makes the state whole,” he said. “It is not agood bill if it takes care of cities but creates a deficit for thestate.”

Nichols believes if the bill creates a deficit for the state itcould still come back to haunt municipalities when the Legislaturecuts other funding to make the state whole.

Brookhaven Mayor Bob Massengill said if the bill makes citieswhole and provides for growth he would not oppose it. The mayordid, however, question the timing of the bill when so much remainsunknown about how the devastation on the Gulf Coast will affect thestate budget.

“That aside, it will benefit the consumers without hurting thecities,” he said.

District 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett, R-Brookhaven, said most mayorshave said they support the compromise bill and he believes it willhave no difficulty in passing the House.

“It’ll pass the House no doubt,” he said. “The big question isif there is enough votes to override a veto.”

The governor has told lawmakers that he would also veto thelatest bill. The governor, a former tobacco lobbyist, pledged nonew taxes as a platform during his campaign for office.

“I think we have to be prepared to override a veto,” Moak said.”We’ve already lost momentum here.”

Both House lawmakers questioned whether the Senate would be ableto muster enough votes to override the veto.

“They weren’t able to override the first one, so I just don’tknow,” Moak said.

The House has a deadline of 8 p.m. Thursday to pass allcross-chamber bills.

The compromise bill also requires tobacco companies not includedin the 1997 lawsuit settlement to pay 43 cents per pack to matchwhat companies in the settlement now pay and would grant companiesimmunity from future lawsuits.