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BOBBY HARRISON: Taxes make possible the best of government work



A reader emailed to point out that while reporting that the 3 percent tax on insurance premiums was a growing source of revenue for a beleaguered state budget, I did not explain that the levy most likely was resulting in people having to pay more for insurance.

Granted, taxes do not occur in a vacuum. They cost somebody extra money – whether it’s the shopper paying the sales tax in the mall, grocery store or restaurant; the worker paying the personal income tax; the business (large or small) paying the corporate income tax and a few other levies, or the motorist buying gasoline.

The cold, hard fact is that government cannot run without tax revenue. Try having schools, law enforcement or highways without taxes.

Sure, we could charge the parents to send children to school, levy a toll for each road or pay law enforcement officers independently for each call they make. If they make an arrest or prevent a crime from being committed, they could receive a bonus.

We decided a long time ago that there are certain government services that should be paid by the general public as a whole because they benefit the entire community.

A town,  a state, a nation want good infrastructure, schools and public safety. And we all in general, to a certain extent, want a government that aids the least of us.

I no longer have children in public schools, but I do not mind paying reasonable taxes to operate the public schools. Even when our only child still in school was in a private school, I did not begrudge paying public school taxes.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, committed way back in April to form within a couple of weeks a special commission to study the state’s tax structure and make recommendations to the Legislature.

That commission has yet to be formed. When it is finally formed, here are some guideposts that it could use to begin its work:

• Mississippi has a relatively high sales tax at 7 percent and the highest state-imposed grocery tax in the nation in the poorest state in the nation.

• Mississippi has a relatively low personal income tax that will be reduced further in coming years thanks to legislation passed during the 2016 session.

• Many large businesses in the state pay no corporate income tax and in the coming years will have other taxes they do pay eliminated thanks to legislation passed during the 2016 session. The Department of Revenue cannot legally identify the companies paying no taxes, but it has been surmised that they are large, out-of-state retailers that would be in the state whether they paid taxes or not.

• Mississippi has one of the nation’s lowest tax rates on a gallon of gas.

• Local governments and school districts in Mississippi depend on the sales tax and on property taxes to operate and that dependence is growing as  through the years the state has shifted more of the financial burden back to the local entities. And in Mississippi the local property taxes are broad-based, levied on a large number of people, since not only land and buildings are taxed, but also vehicles.

• Mississippi is one of only six states not to derive any revenue from a lottery.

Those could serve a starting point for any commission study.

But with all due respect to the previously mentioned reader who was kind enough to write, it seems that the insurance premium tax is an example of the kind of tax we all want. It is growing, not because its rate has been raised, but because more people have insurance, meaning insurance companies have more profits to tax.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal Capitol reporter. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.


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