As every legislator knows, no bill is really dead until the Legislature leaves town … especially if the governor wants it to live. But as this column was written late last week, major tax cut bills were all but dead.
The House voted 67 to 52 along party lines for the $555 million compromise tax cut devised by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and passed by the Senate 40 to 11. However, revenue bills require a 60 percent majority for passage, so the House vote fell five votes short. Unless House Republican leaders can convince a handful of Democrats to change their positions, the compromise will die.
The Republican political machine immediately launched a campaign against Democrats. “Mississippi Democrats Kill Tax Relief” read the headline in a message crafted by the Mississippi Republican Party. The message ended with a plea for donations to defeat Democrats.
Which leads to this question posed by one GOP insider: Was the House really interested in enacting tax cuts this session or more interested in positioning Democrats as tax cut opponents for the upcoming elections?
The maneuvering of the tax cut bills in the House makes the question reasonable. From its out-of-nowhere $1.7 billion proposal to eliminate individual income taxes to its handling of the Senate compromise, the House has acted hastily and without the diligence usually practiced to pass major legislation.
On the flip side, there’s appears to be little question that the Senate wanted tax cuts, especially tax cuts for businesses. It sought to eliminate hefty business franchise taxes plus the lowest individual income tax bracket. After the surprise House move on individual income taxes, the Senate responded with a compromise by adding elimination of another tax bracket to its bill. This pushed the total cost to $555 million when fully phased in.
However, there never appeared to be any real dialogue, or effort to find a viable compromise, between House and Senate leadership.
If Republicans’ main goal was to gain political advantage over Democrats in this year’s elections by forcing them to oppose tax cuts, they have succeeded.
However, if Republicans’ main goal was to show they can govern conservatively and pass tax cuts, they have failed. There is little doubt that some mix of business and individual tax cuts could pass both chambers.
So, if and when the House allows the Senate compromise to officially die, it will be time for Gov. Phil Bryant to call a special session in the midst of the regular session (he can do this) to pass a tax cut. As the only GOP leader to have exhibited prudence and restraint on the issue, he is well positioned to forge a compromise the Legislature will pass and the state can afford.
Surely, Republicans know they need to pass some sort of tax cut.