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Tax overhaul shapes up as major battle

For anyone confused and tired of hearing about the ongoingMedicaid funding debate, well, to borrow a familiar phrase, “youain’t seen nothing yet.”

A tax study group, created by Gov. Haley Barbour, is finalizingrecommendations on changes to the state’s tax structure for areport that will be presented to state lawmakers for theirconsideration. From tobacco to newspapers, the group has beenlooking at a wide range of taxing options as part of a possibleoverhaul of the state tax structure.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Percy Watson, whosepanel is also considering tax structure changes, last week promisedto give the study commission’s recommendations a fair hearing. Buthe’s also interested in looking at items, such as a reduction inthe sales tax on groceries, that the governor’s panel has notconsidered.

Given Watson’s comments, battle lines could already be formingover what taxes are raised and which ones may be reduced.

The tax structure overhaul battle threatens to make the Medicaiddebate look like a minor spat. Pandora probably has somefamiliarity with what has been unleashed.

If the Democrat-controlled House and the Republican-leaningSenate could not agree on a method to cover a $90 million gap inMedicaid, what makes anyone think they’ll be able to get togetherwhen a multitude of tax options and millions more in dollars arefactored into the equation?

Barbour and his allies tend to favor intricate plans that wouldappear to work well when taken as a whole. Any tweaking by Housemembers, though, could undo the delicate tax structure mosaic.

In contrast to whatever the tax study group puts forth, Housemembers will likely espouse populist notions – like grocery salestax cuts – that sound great, but may also be a little fuzzy on mathspecifics.

When the tax structure overhaul debate gets under way inearnest, both sides will no doubt be trumpeting their own ideas andtry to demonize the other.

Democrats will say they’re standing up for the little guy, whilealso accusing Barbour and his Republican allies of looking out forthe rich. The governor will say House leadership is standing in theway of approval of a plan he believes is fair to all citizens.

One fact that everyone should remember is that, regardless ofwho is taxed, all tax increases are eventually paid by theconsumer!

With Speaker Billy McCoy and Democrats solidly supervising Houseactivities and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and his fellow Republicanassociates holding sufficient power in the Senate, partisanpolitics could run at an all-time high during the tax debate.There’s no doubt taxing times are ahead for state officials,lawmakers and the public.