JACKSON — In a surprising rebuke of legislative authority, both chambers of the state Legislature rejected their respective leaders’ requests to pass new tax relief legislation, killing short-term efforts this year to cut the state income tax.
House Speaker Philip Gunn and House Ways and Means Chairman Trey Lamar both called on their colleagues in the 122-member House to take steps to reduce the state income tax rate, but rank-and-file GOP House members did not have an appetite to slash taxes again.
Around a dozen House Republicans, according to Lamar, R-Senatobia, opposed efforts to reduce the income tax rate, though he declined to specifically name some of those members.
“There’s still tremendous support to eliminate the tax on work in the Mississippi House of Representatives,” Lamar said.
But a person familiar with the internal deliberations in the GOP caucus meeting said that even more Republican lawmakers than Lamar’s estimate were reluctant to advocate for tax cuts again because of rural hospitals at risk of closing and infrastructure needs around the state.
Democratic House members also relayed a message to Republican leadership that they would vote against any potential income tax bill that came to the House floor.
“This is not the time to discuss tax cuts, given the state of our infrastructure, health care system and public education,” House Minority Leader Robert Johnson III told the Daily Journal.
It takes a three-fifths vote to pass revenue bills in the Legislature, so even with the GOP controlling a supermajority of the House, Republican leadership cannot afford to shed many votes on a tax cut bill with Democrats opposing the measure.
Gunn, R-Clinton, is serving his final year as leader of the chamber, and he has made eliminating the income tax one of his core policies while in office. With less than two months remaining in the 2023 session, he reiterated to reporters that he is still urging colleagues to completely nix the income tax.
“We’ll still continue to talk about what can be done moving forward,” Gunn said.
Other House members have suggested advancing legislation that reduces the grocery tax or cuts fees on car tags. Both Gunn and Lamar said they would consider those proposals, but the speaker would not directly answer if he would consider any type of tax cut policy that did not also cut the income tax.
“You’re talking about hypotheticals,” Gunn said. “Again, you’ve got to consider the entirety of the tax structure.”
In the Senate, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann called on the 52 state senators to support legislation that would use excess revenues to cut citizens a “dollar-for-dollar” rebate check, for a maximum of $500.
But Senate Finance Chairman Josh Harkins told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that he was not planning to take up any tax rebates or tax cut measures, virtually blocking Hosemann’s policy proposal.
“We have a lot of financial issues out there,” Harkins, R-Flowood said.
Hosemann’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the rebate proposal.
The Legislature in 2017 and 2022 passed significant cuts to the state income tax, which will essentially leave the state with a flat 4% tax rate on all earned income over $10,000.
The House speaker and lieutenant governor wield enormous influence over the legislative process because they decide which lawmakers lead legislative committees, making Tuesday's decision to rebuff legislative leadership surprising.
The reluctance could signal that individual Republicans are not willing to spend more political capital on tax legislation, especially when Gunn is not running for re-election.
Sen. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, told the Daily Journal that he supports efforts to reduce rates, but he was reluctant to support any new tax cuts until the 2017 and 2022 tax cuts can be studied more.
“We need to wait until those tax cuts take full effect and see what their impact is on the general budget,” McMahan said.
There are currently no plans to have a standalone tax relief bill, but legislators can use parliamentary tools later in the session to put tax cuts into related tax bills.
Neither Lamar nor Harkins signaled any intent to pursue that option.