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Tax swap top issue in leg. debate

The AARP turned up the heat on District 91 and 92 legislativecompetitors Thursday night, grilling candidates on three of thesenior citizen organization’s focus issues in a debate at theBrookhaven Recreation Department.

The forum topics were stay the state’s cigarette and grocery taxchange issue, home health care vs. nursing home care and identitytheft. Candidates were given three minutes for their opening andclosing statements and two minutes to answer each question.

All four of the District 92 candidates were on hand. BeckyCurrie, Paul Barnett and Gene Buckles represented the Republicanside of the ticket, and D.W. Maxwell was the lone Democrat.

Meanwhile, District 91’s winner will be decided August 7 as theonly three on the ticket are Democrats. Incumbent Joey Hudson andchallenger Bob Evans attended the event.

As it has been in the state for several years, the hot topic wasthe cigarette and grocery tax swap. While all the candidates saidthey are in favor of lowering the grocery taxes to some degree,their opinions differed on how exactly it needed to be done.

In District 92, all the candidates were in favor of raising thecigarette tax, though the grocery tax was up in the air.

“I’m in favor of reducing it,” said Barnett. “But we need tokeep that money in our community. We need to look at this andassess the impact of taking that tax money away from ourcities.”

Buckles said he felt that cities would make up the taxes inother areas.

“The money you save on those groceries you’re going to spendsomewhere else,” he said.

Currie pointed out that sales tax is the only fair tax acrossall sectors of the public.

“Rich, poor, illegal immigrants, we all have to pay sales tax,”she said. “But I’m in favor of a gradual decrease to the point thatone day we can say we don’t have to be taxed in order to eat.”

Maxwell said he’s in favor of a reduction in grocery taxes, buthe, too, felt it should be gradual.

He cited his work with the Brookhaven Board of Aldermen as partof his reasoning. He said it was possible the cigarette tax mightnot make up for the difference in the grocery money in the end.

“We’re not sure what $1 a pack is going to bring in,” Maxwellsaid. “We need to phase in the grocery reduction and see how itbalances out, and if this doesn’t make up the difference, I suggesttaking a look at higher taxes on alcohol. But it must be balancedand swapped so we don’t have to raise other taxes.”

In District 91, the viewpoints were similar, if worded a littlemore colorfully.

“The tobacco tax? No problem,” said Evans. “Raise them $10 forall I care. Tax it out of existence.”

As far as the sales tax on groceries, Evans went on to say hebelieves taxing food is immoral.

Hudson said he had already voted for the grocery tax reductiontwice, and that he felt other things such as casinos and alcoholcould be the source for additional revenue.

“I was excited when I read that the governor said we need tolook at total tax structure. Any of the sin taxes would be a greatplace to make up that revenue,” he said. “If we did that, we couldget our sales tax reduced.”

The issue of money following the person in the home healthversus nursing home showed overwhelming support from thecandidates. All agreed that in a senior citizen’s twilight years,they should be allowed to choose where they spend the end of theirlives.

Hudson said he supported the choice, but he pointed out theadditional financial strain that can be caused when another bedopens up in a nursing home.

“It blows our Medicaid budget, which is already over $2billion,” he said. “We have to be frugal and make sure it’s moneywell spent.”

AARP also brought up the issue of a credit freeze for citizensbefore they are the victims of identity theft. Under currentlegislation, a person must have already been victimized to be ableto freeze their credit.

The candidates all agreed that a credit freeze should be anoption not only to senior citizens, but also to members of thegeneral population.