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Could it really be true that Mississippi could be ready to consider tax reform? That the next Legislature could take it seriously? That discussion is coming from both Democrats and Republicans?

I know. Wishful thinking. This is just election talk and everyone knows the very worst time to talk about taxes is during an election

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But in an election year with no clear-cut issues, it is encouraging that candidates are mentioning taxes in more ways than to say “I’m agin’ ’em.”

Democratic candidates are beginning to get some traction with a proposal to lower the state’s sales tax on food.

POPULAR TAX CUT

The proposal to lower the state’s current 7 percent sales tax on food, coupled with an offsetting increase in the state’s tobacco tax has been a hot legislative issue for the past two sessions.

Supported and pushed by Republican Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and backed by Democratic lawmakers, the issue caught the public’s attention then and does now.

The political math is simple:

  • Mississippi has the highest sales tax on food in the nation.

     

  • Mississippi has the third lowest cigarette tax.

     

  • Polls consistently show overwhelming support for raising the tobacco tax.

     

  • Nobody has to smoke.

     

  • Everyone has to eat.

    Would seem easy, right?

    Gov. Haley Barbour, with the help of some Mississippi mayors, lobbyists and a senator who refused to let the bill out of his committee, stopped it.

    That senator, Finance Chairman Tommy Robertson, R-Moss Point, lost his re-election bid with the tax issue being no small part of his defeat, so it is clear the public is paying attention to this idea.

    TAX INEQUITIES

    Last week, an independent non-partisan group, the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, released a report that pointed out inequities in the state tax system.

    Mississippi relies heavily on the sales tax, which is a regressive tax. The state income tax also is skewed low.

    The center put numbers to it. Mississippians making $100,000 pay an average 7 percent in state taxes. Families earning $15,000 pay 11.5 percent of their income in taxes. And those who make $30,000 to $1 million are in the same tax bracket.

    Mississippi’s tax system, like all tax systems, was built piecemeal based on political pressures from special interests. There is a strange list of exemptions in the sales tax and property tax laws. (For full disclosure sake, newspapers are sales tax exempted.)

    Barbour says he supports a full tax review and wants a consultant to look at the entire tax impact.

    I don’t believe Barbour and Democrats will still see eye-to-eye, but an objective review is a good place to start. Mississippi needs tax reform from top to bottom. A non-partisan commission would be the best approach with a charge to kick whatever sacred cows need kicking to develop proposals for tax fairness.

    I know there are wide philosophical differences. Still, I am encouraged by the discussion.

    Legislators have an old political saying when it comes to taxes: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree.”

    We need to go around and around that tree a few times and see who we find. We might be surprised.

  • By Editorial Director David Hampton at (601) 961-7240, Clarionledger.com

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