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Lawmakers await governor’s action on tax bill

Area lawmakers await with uncertainty Gov. Haley Barbour’sdecision on a House and Senate compromise bill that would halve thegrocery tax while increasing the sales tax on cigarettes.

The governor faces a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline to hold to hispromise to veto the bill, or it becomes law without his signature,said District 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett, R-Brookhaven. Barbour mayalso formally sign the bill into law.

The bill, which narrowly passed the Senate, would reduce thegrocery tax from 7 percent to 3.5 percent while increasing the taxon cigarettes from 18 cents a pack to 80 cents per pack on July 1.The cigarette tax would then be raised to $1 per pack nextyear.

A similar bill that would have eliminated the grocery tax overtime was rapidly approved in both chambers, but was vetoed byBarbour early in the session. The governor has said he promised “nonew taxes” during his campaign for office and intends to stick tohis convictions.

Barnett said he hopes the governor will allow the bill to becomelaw without his signature. That way, Barnett said, Barbour couldsay he held to his campaign promise and the state would still beable to benefit from the merits of the bill.

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, however, doesn’tbelieve that will happen.

“I think he’ll veto it,” he said. “That’s what was promised tous.”

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.

Moak, who supports the plan, said the governor’s decision iscritical to the future of the bill because votes to override theveto would be difficult to come by.

“I believe there are enough in the House (to override),” hesaid. “I think they’re still a vote or so short in the Senate.That’s where the real fight will be.”

In other matters, lawmakers will be working this week to meet a5 p.m. Tuesday deadline to approve cross-chamber appropriationmeasures, Barnett said.

It will be a long process, Barnett said, because District 55Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, is requiring all bills be read intheir entirety because “someone got their nose out of joint” when abill they supported was not approved. The stalling tactic hascontributed heightened tension in the Legislature as lawmakers worktoward deadlines and the end of the session on April 2.

Moak said that was the price of doing business in theLegislature.

“That’s a Constitutional right he has,” Moak said. “It’s aprocedural move to lengthen debate or it’s used when they don’tlike the way a particular issue has gone against them. It’s justone of the hazards. I don’t really enjoy it, but it is what itis.”

Following the cross-chamber appropriations deadline, theLegislature’s time will be spent in conference ironing outdifferences between House and Senate proposals on variouslegislation, Barnett said.