By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
In the wake of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal to eliminate Louisiana state personal and corporate income taxes by replacing it with higher sales taxes, long-time Pearl River County supervisor and former president of the board of supervisors, Anthony Hales, Sr., on Monday renewed his call for a tax swap, too — a one percent countywide sales tax that would offset the high property taxes homeowners and businesses are paying in Pearl River County.
Last year, Hales suggested a similar measure, but it got nowhere because the legislature wouldn’t address it, and Pearl River County supervisors themselves couldn’t arrive at a consensus on the issue.
Hales said that if the county were given a one penny sales tax on each dollar, property millage rates, over several years, could be cut back at least 10 mills, maybe more. He said the millage cuts would be written into the law so they would be assured of being implemented.
“The sales tax is the most fair. It hits everybody. The property tax is regressive and discriminates against property owners. Why should we tax a man’s castle and land, so much, and ignore other sources?” asked Hales.
Few county officials spoke out on Hales proposal last year, but Picayune Mayor Ed Pinero, Jr., said that if Picayune could get a one percent sales tax going directly to the city, the Picayune City Council could abolish property taxes on homeowners and businesses inside the city limits of Picayune.
There have been calls by some local officials, including Hales, for the state to share some of its sales tax revenue with counties, and more with cities in the wake of news that Louisiana is much more creative in using sales taxes in its mix of funding government.
For example, says Hales, about 4 percent of sales taxes collected in Louisiana go to the state, and parishes and cities are allowed to apply sales taxes also to generate revenue after approval by the Louisiana State Legislature.
In Mississippi, the State rebates a small part of the sales tax back to the cities, and keeps the rest for itself. “The Mississippi State Legislature is very protective of its sales tax turf,” said Hales.
Half of the City of Picayune’s $10 million general fund budget is funded with state sales tax rebate funds. Counties get no help through sales taxes.
Hales said his proposal last year got nowhere because a number of legislators would not support it.
He said that he will request that the current president of the board of supervisors, J. Patrick Lee, contact the Mississippi Association of Supervisors president, and ask that the supervisors association take a stand on the issue of giving the counties some of the sales tax revenue to help offset property tax revenue.
Hales last year said he intended to get a referendum on the ballot to sample how Pearl River County residents feel about the issue, but he said that did not happen because of a lack of support on the board.
“But I will not shut up,” said Hales, who is serving his fifth term as the first black supervisor ever elected in Pearl River County. “We have to come up with other means of revenue. Property owners, homeowners, are maxed out on taxes. They can’t stand any more taxes.”
Supervisors plan to meet again in a recessed meeting at 9 a.m. on Jan. 23 at the chancery court annex on Julia Street.
It was not clear whether or not Hales will bring up the issue again during that session.
Jindal’s proposal has set politicians to thinking, not only in Louisiana, but also in Mississippi.
Jindal’s proposed tax swap would involve $3 billion, and critics say it would favor the rich and hurt the poor. Proponents of the measure say it would make the state of Louisiana much more attractive to industry.
Companies love state’s where they pay no income or franchise taxes, officials said.
Hales maintains that lowering property taxes would make Pearl River County much more attractive. “We have to compete with Louisiana,” said Hales. “It’s just next door, and what they do impacts us economically.” Pearl River County abuts Washington and St. Tammany parishes in Louisiana.
Pearl River County officials have pointed out that Louisiana’s low property taxes, offset by higher sales taxes, has put Mississippi counties near Louisiana, such as Pearl River, in a poor competitive position when bidding for businesses and industry against Louisiana.
County officials said Pearl River County lost Rooms-To-Go and a food distribution company to Louisiana because Louisiana offered lower property taxes.