To help the city fund a convention center, the Jackson City Council has approved Mayor Harvey Johnson's proposal for a 1-percent optional sales tax increase, and other proposals that will go before the state Legislature in the next few weeks. The tax, which would exempt grocery and pharmaceuticals, would have to be approved by 60 percent of the city's voters. The exemptions might make the proposed increase more palatable to opponents who have said the regressive tax would hit people with lower incomes harder because more of their income is spent on items that are charged sales taxes.
The increase, which would raise sales taxes from 7 percent to 8 percent, could be in place for 10 years, and could raise as much as $22 million dollars a year. The center will cost an estimated $80 million to build.
A convention center is "crucial" to Jackson, Johnson said, and will help make the city more competitive with area cities for tourism dollars.
A new convention center would also provide jobs, including 1,375 construction jobs, and increase development opportunities in the areas of technology, communications and forestry.
Some lawmakers have been adamant about not raising taxes, and Jackson lawmakers have not been able to agree about a city sales tax in the past. But Gov. Haley Barbour has said he will not veto a bill that would raise local taxes for a convention center.
If the sales tax is not approved, Johnson said he would propose an increase on restaurant, motel and hotel taxes. Sixty percent of voters also would have to approve that increase, which both the Mississippi Lodging Association and the Mississippi Restaurant Association oppose. They support a sales tax increase, however.
Other legislative proposals that the city supports include:
• Legislation that will allow the city to provide financial assistance to city employees to purchase homes in Jackson.
• Legislation that will amend state law to make fleeing from law enforcement officers a felony. The legislation also would provide for additional policies and training for law enforcement agencies.
• Mississippi Police Chiefs' Association proposes a $1 surcharge on automobile insurance policies. The money would be used to create a statewide Auto Theft Authority based on Texas's Department of Public Safety's Automobile Theft Prevention Authority.
• Legislation that will make seat belt violations a primary traffic offense in Mississippi.
• Legislation that will support increasing funding options to municipalities for storm water drainage issues.