Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Advocacy groups this week denounced Senate Finance Committee Chair Tommy Robertson for killing an embattled tax swap bill that would have cut the state's grocery tax by half and raised the tobacco tax to $1 per pack.
The Senate then failed to revive the bill on Tuesday, with senators voting 31-20 against considering the issue again. The tax swap bill had 26 co-sponsors at its birth almost two months ago, but the 20 votes against it Tuesday were more than enough to derail the two-thirds super-majority Senate rules require.
Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck said she was disappointed by the vote. "Each one of the senators has to live with their own decision, but to me, the bill was good public policy and an opportunity to allow the introduction of a bill that saves lives and gives people a break on their groceries," Tuck told the Jackson Free Press on Tuesday.
Local senators voting against reviving the bill include Sen. Charlie Ross, R-Brandon, who is running for lieutenant governor, and Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl. The only Senator inside Hinds County who voted against the rule change was Sen. Richard White, R-Terry.
Former tobacco lobbyist Gov. Haley Barbour instructed Robertson to kill the bill for weeks, saying he was against raising taxes. He said he stood against a grocery tax cut by claiming that the state's economy was too jittery to risk a cut in state revenue.
Later last week, however, Robertson enthusiastically supported Senate Bill 2815, which would cut by half taxes on sporting and livestock tickets.
Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, still stinging from the death of his tobacco/grocery tax swap bill, badgered Robertson on the Senate floor for withholding tax relief for the state's low-income grocery buyers while allowing relief on "boxers, cows and horses and hogs."
Nunnelee tossed popular anti-grocery swap arguments from Barbour loyalists back at Robertson regarding the sporting and livestock tax cut.
"Are municipalities not worried about losing revenue with this sales tax cut?" he asked, as quoted in The Clarion-Ledger. "Is it not risky in these uncertain times to give a sales tax cut to these promoters of boxing events and livestock shows?"
The Senate, nevertheless, passed that bill, which now awaits Barbour's signature.
In other legislative news, the House sent a flurry of bills into conference committee negotiations with the Senate. Many of the bills in conference were the same ones that made headlines near the beginning of the session.
The bills range from anti-immigration bills like HB 1379, which demands employers to prove the citizenship or work status of their employees, to HB 300, a holdover from an eminent-domain dispute between the state and Canton landowners regarding property the state wanted for the Nissan plant.
The House and Senate hammered out a couple of bills that are now due for the governor's signature. These include HB 1267, which creates a task force studying the increasing occurrence of autism in Mississippi children and HB1047, a pro-Jackson bill that allows cities to tow vehicles for the owner's failure to pay outstanding fines or warrants.
Some potentially good news rolled into the Legislature last week when the Joint Legislative Budget Committee officially raised the estimate of state revenues this year by more than $70 million.
House Bill 1500 passed the Senate last week, meaning the bill expanding the state's windpool by $80 million is now on the way to the governor's desk.
The extra money will allow the state's insurer of last resort, the Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association, to lower rates on coverage for wind damage.
Barbour's spokesman Pete Smith told The Clarion-Ledger that the governor favors some portions of the bill. If Barbour does decide to veto it, however, he will face considerable ire from legislators.
The bill is popular among legislators on both sides of the political fence, and even Insurance Commissioner George Dale referred to the legislation as one of the best economic bills to come out of this legislative session.