She's Got A New Attitude | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

She's Got A New Attitude

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In a surprising move last week, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck stepped away from her usual role as the governor's mouthpiece to come out in favor of a cigarette tax.

Tuck's political philosophies have been largely in line with those of Gov. Haley Barbour in regard to tax increases. Her position holds the life thread to most bills coming out of the Senate, and she has shown no favoritism toward proposals for tax increases either from her own Senate or from the more tax-friendly House.

Former tobacco lobbyist Barbour is particularly unfriendly to tax increases on cigarettes, steadfastly hanging to the mantra of "no new taxes" throughout last year's regular session, despite repeated alarms from legislators of shrinking budget revenue and the state electorate's growing priority of fully funding health care and education over preserving the current state tobacco tax of 18 cents a pack.

Tuck did not support a tax increase of 50 cents per pack last year, but surprised the capitol by supporting SB 2310, which would up the tobacco tax to $1 per pack in the coming two years—creeping it up to 75 cents in July and another 25 cents a year later.

"This bill saves lives and reduces taxes," Tuck said last week.

Joseph Ammerman, Tuck's communication director, said Tuck had never taken a stand against the tobacco tax. "It wasn't that Tuck opposed the tax. We just had a lot of issues out there and the cigarette tax got inundated," Ammerman said.

Equally surprising, the tax increase passed the tax-leery Senate with a 36-to-15 vote in favor. Tuck has depicted the tax cut as "revenue neutral," pointing out that the tax increase is balanced by a tax decrease in grocery sales. Grocery sales tax in the state now amounts to 7 percent. SB 2310 proposes to drop that figure to 3.5 percent, and then phase it out completely in eight years.

Neither Rep. Cecil Brown nor Sen. Mike Chaney, both reliable Geiger counters on legislative behavior, could account for Tuck's attitude change.

"I couldn't possibly tell you what made this possible," said Brown, at a Jan. 9 press luncheon. "I can't say I saw this coming."

"I can't tell you what caused (Tuck's change of mind). You'll have to go to someone else to find that out, because I just can't tell you," Chaney told the Jackson Free Press.

Some critics say the hike in tobacco taxes could not counter the drop in grocery sales tax, eventually amounting to an altogether drop in revenue in the coming years. One coastal city manager said in The Clarion-Ledger that the decrease in grocery sales tax would pose a serious cut in local revenue, since storm damage from Hurricane Katrina had obliterated a sizable portion of the tax base collected through home-ownership.

Rep. James Simpson, R-Pass Christian, said he was not sure how seriously a drop in collected sales tax from groceries would affect the Coast with so many other purchases going on outside of food sales, but called any tax on food "regressive."

"The people down here on the Coast that are hurting the most still have to pay sales tax on groceries because you have to eat. I think everybody in the Legislature, for this and many other reasons, would love to remove the sales tax on groceries completely," Simpson said. "It's a bad, regressive tax, and it's a bad source of funds for the government to turn to."

Gov. Haley Barbour said Tuck's plan to shift the tax burden is no different than raising taxes, and repeated the claim that he stands opposed to tax increases, though he stopped short of saying he would automatically veto the bill if it survived the House and made it to his desk.

The bill passed the Senate with 36 votes, however, and if a veto is coming, the bill already boasts more than the two-thirds vote needed to overturn the veto in the Senate.

Simpson said he feared the bill might evolve into a more outright tax increase by the end of the session, yet still get passed.

"It surprised me that this come out of the Senate, but what worries me if we get to the very end of the session, into the conference position and the portion o the bill removing the tax on groceries gets dropped out," Simpson said.

"There's a lot of things that would reduce medical costs in the future, but we're not taxing them into oblivion. If a product is legal, then it's not good to use taxing power to compel people to abandon it."

Bills approved early in the House and on their way to the Senate include House Bill 100, a bill overwhelmingly approved by 116 to 3 in favor. The bill addresses eminent domain fears by making it illegal for the state, cities and counties to take private property for stores or manufacturing plants. Governments could still take an individual's land for roads and parks.

The House also approved a bill giving state, IHL and community college employees a $1,000 raise and a bill to provide three months of transportation for more than 700 dialysis patients on Medicaid, which does not pay for transportation.

The Senate was working hard on election reform in its first week. The Senate passed Concurrent Resolution 501, which would go before Mississippi voters this November if it survives the scrutiny of the House. The constitutional amendment would eliminate electoral provisions for governor and other statewide offices in Mississippi.

Previous Comments

ID
65071
Comment

Adam writes: The bill passed the Senate with 36 votes, however, and if a veto is coming, the bill already boasts more than the two-thirds vote needed to overturn the veto in the Senate. Wait! So you're telling me there's a chance this could actually become law? AWESOME. I had no idea there were enough votes to override a veto. A cut in the grocery tax would be great news for Jackson, in particular, and any area that has a large number of working-class families. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-01-12T04:16:30-06:00
ID
65072
Comment

(And if this passes, I take back every negative thing I ever said about Amy Tuck. Assuming I ever said anything negative about Amy Tuck, and I'm not entirely sure I did.)

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-01-12T04:17:06-06:00
ID
65073
Comment

TH-- So you're telling me there's a chance this could actually become law? Yesterday the House passed this bill with an 8-vote margin above the two-thirds needed to override a veto. If the "yea" votes in both chamber hold true, it's veto-proof. Neither Rep. Cecil Brown nor Sen. Mike Chaney, both reliable Geiger counters on legislative behavior, could account for Tuck’s attitude change. There are rumors--purely rumors-- that Tuck, who cannot run for reelection as Lt. Governor, is considering switching parties again for a run at another office. While switching back is highly unlikely--possibly becoming unaffiliated as opposed to being a Democrat or Republican-- it is certainly the case that she is looking for and found a springboard for her next campaign.

Author
Rex
Date
2006-01-12T09:54:07-06:00
ID
65074
Comment

The Ledge followed this story up today.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-01-13T11:10:56-06:00

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