Miss. Senate ends effort to revive cigarette/grocery tax swap

Published 12:25 am Sunday, March 25, 2007

This time, it looks like the issue is really, really dead.

Senators voted 28-13 Friday against an effort to revive a bill to reduce grocery taxes and increase taxes on cigarettes. The technical maneuver likely ended debate on one of 2007’s biggest legislative issues.

Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who first introduced the so-called “tax swap” idea last year, acknowledged the legislation won’t become law on her watch. Tuck is term limited and is not seeking office this election year.

“The votes weren’t there. I’m disappointed that the legislation is not going to become law this year,” Tuck said. “However, I believe it is good public policy and it had strong support from people across the state, so I’m sure it will continue to be addressed and discussed.”

Senate Public Health Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, had been an ardent supporter of the “tax swap” proposal. He conceded during Senate debate that time was running out this year, urging his colleagues to drop the issue and concentrate on other business.

Leaders say they probably won’t try to revive the issue before the session ends April 1.

“I told the Senate that I acknowledge that for the ’07 session, the issue is dead, dead, dead,” Nunnelee said. “But the issue is not going to go away. There will come a day when Mississippi will resolve this issue.”

Mississippi has the highest state sales tax on groceries, at 7 percent. It also has the third-lowest excise tax on cigarettes, at 18 cents a pack.

Two bills died in the Senate Finance Committee. They would have cut the grocery tax in half and increased the cigarette tax to $1 a pack.

Senators earlier this week tried to revive the issue with a resolution that would have allowed lawmakers to consider a new bill. That attempt fell three votes shy of the 34 needed on Tuesday.

On Friday, Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, urged his colleges not to let the issue die.

“It doesn’t make sense to vote against something that would help all Mississippians,” Jordan said. “If we can’t help the people we represent, why are we here?”

A majority of his colleagues were not persuaded.

Last year, Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed two similar bills. An override needed a two-thirds majority, but supporters of the issue couldn’t muster enough votes.

Barbour says he’s against the proposal because Mississippi’s economic outlook is too uncertain because of Hurricane Katrina. He also has said he is against raising any taxes.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, and three other Democratic House members Wednesday filed a resolution that would put the “tax swap” plan on the general election ballot of Nov. 6.

It doesn’t appear that move will gain enough support this year either.

“I think you will definitely see this issue next session,” said Sen. Gray Tollison, D-Oxford, “There’s no question about it.”

The resolutions are Senate Concurrent Resolution 621 and House Concurrent Resolution 103.