Grocery, cigarette tax-swap bill may return

- Nothing's ever really dead until the legislators go home.

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON - Legislation to decrease the tax on groceries and increase the cigarette tax died last week, but it may be back.

Speculation persists that during the final two weeks of the session, there will be efforts to revive the legislation first proposed by Republican Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck to reduce the nation's highest state-imposed tax on groceries and to increase the third lowest tax on cigarettes.

"I am for doing everything I can to get the bill on the floor of the Senate," said Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo. "A measure that is sponsored by 26 senators and has been approved by 91 members of the House deserves to be debated by the Senate."

The measure died when Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Robertson, R-Moss Point, opted not to take it up in his committee by the deadline for such bills to be considered. At this point, the easiest way to revive the legislation would be to a parliamentary maneuver: to suspend the rules.

But to pass a resolution suspending the rules, it would take a two-thirds majority. Last year Tuck was unable to obtain a two-thirds majority on two separate occasions to override vetoes of similar legislation by Republican Gov. Haley Barbour.

Robertson said this year he did not take it up in committee because the two-thirds majority wasn't there.

Tuck disappointed

Tuck said recently, "I have thought all along that this shift in taxes, including the largest tax cut in Mississippi history, is an idea whose time has come and the Senate deserved an opportunity to examine and debate the issue fully, and I am disappointed that that debate didn't happen."

Whether it happens still remains to be seen. A rules suspension resolution has been filed in the House where the proposal passed earlier with the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor's veto.

House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, would not predict if his chamber would attempt to maneuver.

"If we had any indication that the Senate would be able to move forward on this proposal, we certainly would suspend the rules," he said. "We want to be productive with what we do. We have never believed in a concept more than we do in this bill. It is the right thing to do - the right thing for the people of Mississippi.

"We cannot understand the governor's opposition or Sen. Robertson's opposition."

Both the governor and Robertson have said they are not sure the grocery tax is the tax they would prefer to cut. Plus, when talking about the cigarette tax, Barbour said, "I'm against raising anybody's taxes."

Contact Daily Journal Jackson Bureau reporter Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

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