Friday, May 20, 2011
Referring to himself as a "tell-it-like-it-is politician," Ward 1 Jackson City Councilman Quentin Whitwell told community members this morning that the makeup of a commission to oversee Jackson's proposed 1-percent sales-tax increase should not stop Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. from moving forward.
I don't care if we have to report to a board or a commission," Whitwell said during Koinonia Coffee House's Friday Forum. "... But if they don't have any money or authority to look at what we are doing--other than just with a naked eye--quite frankly, they are a toothless tiger. I don't care who they are, but at the end of the day, if we need the money, then we need the money."
Earlier this spring, the Mississippi Legislature passed a bill allowing the city to levy a 1-percent sales-tax increase. The tax, which would fund infrastructure repair, does not apply to retail sales of food at grocery stores and restaurants, or to hotel or motel rooms. Also exempt from the tax are fees collected by TV and Internet service providers.
Prior to the tax taking effect, the city must hold a referendum vote. Three-fifths of Jackson's voters must approve the increase before the new tax goes into effect. While Johnson was previously supportive of the new tax, the mayor and his administration have contested the requirement for a 10-member commission that would devise a plan for how the city would spend those funds.
The bill requires a "local" chamber to appoint four members of the commission who must own businesses within the city. They do not have to be residents, however. The governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives each get to appoint a single member to the commission, leaving Jackson's mayor with the power to appoint the three remaining members.
Last month, Johnson asked the chamber to confer to the city the power to appoint its four members. Whitwell suggested that the Mayor accept a gentleman's agreement from the chamber to provide informal approval for chamber-appointed board members.
If the commission "just sits there," Whitwell said he might reverse his support on the sales-tax increase.
Whitwell also said that going back to the Legislature to remove the commission is likely doomed because of several lawmakers from Rankin County.
"Rankin County doesn't give a hoot about Hinds County," he said. "No offense, those are all my friends, but I am just saying we are not in a position, from a legal standpoint, to go tell them how it's going to be done."
City spokesmen Chris Mims said today that the mayor is still negotiating with the chamber about the commission appointments. He added that the amount of power the commission would have is debatable.
"We have asserted all along that that is open to interpretation," Mims said. "(Whitwell) takes a different interpretation than the administration and majority of City Council members at this point. We are hopeful that we will come to an agreement with the chamber that will allow us to move forward with this issue."