Senator criticizes proposed tax cut on tickets

Published 8:19 pm Friday, March 16, 2007

Mississippians shouldn’t expect a tax break on pound of ground round, but they might save some cash when they pay to see beef on hoof at the fairgrounds.

The Mississippi Senate gave final approval Thursday to a bill that would reduce sales taxes on tickets to some athletic events and livestock shows. A supporter of this year’s failed grocery tax cut says the price break for sports tickets is just plain bull.

“We passed a bill today that cuts the sales tax in half on cows, hogs and boxers, but we’ve been unable to get a vote for that exact same sales tax cut for people that buy groceries,” said Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo.

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Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Robertson, R-Moss Point, urged his colleagues to approve the measure to cut taxes from 7 percent to 3 percent on tickets to state-sanctioned athletic and livestock events.

Robertson is the same senator who, at the request of Gov. Haley Barbour, killed a proposal to increase cigarette taxes and lower the rates on groceries.

“Is it not risky in these uncertain times to give a sales tax cut?” Nunnelee asked. “So we’ll give a tax cut to boxers and horses and cows and hogs?”

The statement was an obvious slap at Robertson and Barbour.

The Republican governor has said repeatedly the state’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina is still too uncertain to allow a change in the state’s tax structure. Barbour, a former Washington lobbyist for tobacco companies, also has said he’s against raising anybody’s taxes, even on cigarettes.

Barbour spokesman Pete Smith said the governor would decide whether to sign or veto the livestock and athletic event bill once he receives it.

Barbour and Robertson have been criticized by some lawmakers and special interest groups for their stance on the so-called grocery/cigarette “tax swap,” which would have increased the cigarette tax to $1 a pack and cut the 7 percent grocery tax in half.

Mississippi has the third-lowest cigarette tax at 18 cents a pack and the highest state grocery tax in the nation.

Barbour vetoed two cigarette/grocery bills last year and lawmakers couldn’t muster enough votes for an override. Robertson supported last year’s proposal, but refused to allow bills out of his committee this year. A Senate bill died last month. A bill that had passed the House died in Robertson’s committee when a deadline passed Tuesday.

Robertson, responding later to Nunnelee’s comments on the sports and livestock events, said: “I don’t think he knew what he was talking about.”

Robertson said the tax cut on the athletic and livestock events would have a minimal impact on the state budget at less that $25,000 per event. It would only apply to events sanctioned by the Mississippi Athletic Commission and are held in publicly owned, enclosed coliseums and auditoriums.

The move will help Mississippi remain competitive with surrounding states when vying for events, Robertson said. “They’re having a hard time competing.”

Nunnelee was not impressed.

“I’m also frustrated that the mayors who were so concerned about the grocery tax cut hurting their cities weren’t here to speak out against this,” Nunnelee said.

Mayors from several cities opposed the grocery/cigarette tax swap because they said most of their revenue comes from sales taxes, and any reduction could harm their cities.

The bill is Senate Bill 2815.