AP: Mississippi House passes bill to phase out state income tax

From the Associated Press, “Mississippi House passes bill to phase out state income tax” by Emily Wagster Pettus

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – The Mississippi House argued two hours Wednesday before passing an election-year proposal that could become one of the biggest tax cuts in state history if it becomes law – a plan to phase out the state’s personal income tax over the next 15 years if the economy grows.

The bill passed the Republican-led House 82-32, with several Democrats voting for the bill after they criticized it and tried to change it.

However, it’s unclear whether the bill, with a price tag of $1.7 billion, will survive the Senate.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the Senate’s presiding officer, is pushing a separate bill that would phase out the business franchise tax and give a more modest reduction in the income tax. It’s projected to cost $382 million.

Supporters of House Bill 1629 say eliminating Mississippi’s income tax would stimulate economic growth. Mississippi has long been one of the poorest states in the nation, and opponents of the bill say it would further weaken the state’s ability to pay for education, transportation, health care and other government services.

“It would devastate our budget,” said Rep. Jim Evans, D-Jackson, who voted against the bill.

Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, said eliminating the income tax over several years would reward people who work and pay for government.

“It’s not an overly aggressive plan at all,” Formby said.

The Senate on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 2839, Reeves’ proposal to phase out Mississippi’s business franchise tax over 10 years and reduce some income taxes.

The two chambers will exchange bills for more work. Legislators have until late March to set a budget and pass or kill tax proposals.

The House bill was filed Monday, just two days before the deadline for the House and Senate to act on the first round of tax and budget proposals during this three-month legislative session.

During Wednesday’s debate, Democratic Rep. Cecil Brown of Jackson peppered the Ways and Means Committee chairman, Republican Jeff Smith of Columbus, about whether Smith had held public hearings or consulted economic experts about the potential impact of eliminating the personal income tax. Smith said he had done neither. But Smith said letting people keep more of the money they earn could stimulate spending and boost the economy.

“Your numbers don’t work,” Brown told him.

Smith responded: “Gentleman, I told you I have not talked to economists.”

The personal income tax is one of the largest sources of revenue to pay for schools, prisons, mental health care and other state services, generating about a quarter of state tax revenue.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said the House plan would trim nearly $1.4 billion in taxes in steps through 2028, pausing in any year when state revenue doesn’t grow by at least 3 percent. However, that total is based on partial collections from the 2012 calendar year, according to the state Department of Revenue. The state is projected to collect more than $1.7 billion in personal income taxes this year.

Democrats on Wednesday offered 10 amendments that were all defeated, including one that would have reduced the 7 percent tax on groceries.

Tax bills require a three-fifths majority to pass, so at least 69 votes were needed Wednesday.

Sixty-five Republicans and 18 Democrats voted for the bill, and 32 Democrats 32 voted against it.

Two Democrats voted “present,” which did not count for or against the bill. Three Democrats did not vote. One Republican and one Democrat were absent.

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