While the city of Jackson was mourning the death of a popular mayor and, afterward, in the throes of an election to pick his successor, the Mississippi Legislature usurped the citizens of Jackson.
In January, more than 90 percent of Jackson residents approved a citywide referendum to levy a 1-percent sales tax on certain goods for infrastructure improvements within the city limits.
Just getting the question on the ballot seemed like a victory. Early controversies over a 10-member oversight committee, which didn't sit well with then-Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., pushed implementation of the tax right up against its sunset date. Another mayor, Chokwe Lumumba, who also had misgivings about the commission, swallowed his pride and moved ahead with the vote.
Acknowledging the inherent regressive nature of many taxes, the 1-percent sales tax would not apply to food, hotel and motel rooms or certain cable services. Items that could be taxed represented $15 million per year that the city could have used to fix Jackson's streets.
But, quietly, lawmakers extended the list of items that are off limits to 1-percent tax collectors. Now, city officials say that the $15 million they were hoping to collect could be slashed in half.
Half the revenue, half the improvements—and the will of the state's largest city—ignored.
It's unclear how the language got into the legislation, House Bill 787, which Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, was the chief sponsor.
Of course, giving Jackson the shaft in the waning days of the session has almost become sport at the Mississippi Capitol. Each year, legislators indulge Jackson's lobbyists seeking funding for fire and police protection, payment-in-lieu of taxes, road repairs, football arenas or, at the very least, moving far-flung state agencies into office buildings to downtown.
And most years, Jackson leaves mostly empty-handed, maybe with a few million dollars for a bridge here and there. It's a revolting game, but one Jackson is at least accustomed to.
This business with the sales tax feels like something different, something more disturbing. On one hand, the changes to the sales-tax law will greatly reduce Jackson's ability to address long-standing infrastructure woes, problems that are favorite fodder for jabs among the legislators themselves.
Then, as Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps told the Jackson Free Press this week: "The citizens voted for something specific so we don't believe it's right for the state government to change the law after the citizens have voted on it, with little to no information given to the city or the constituents."
We encourage state officials to work with representatives of the city as well as the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership to find common ground on this issue for the good of Jackson.