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Mississippi lawmakers vague on tax proposals for ’17 session

Mississippi’s Republican-led Legislature and GOP Gov. Phil Bryant enacted a substantial package of tax cuts during their 2016 session, with reductions phased in over several years. But leaders are vague about whether they will propose other tax changes during the three-month 2017 session that begins Jan. 3.

“I wouldn’t expect any major overhaul,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said he and other House leaders are evaluating “several small areas of tinkering with taxes,” such as perhaps taxing professional services that are currently exempt.

“The honest truth is we haven’t made any decisions,” Smith said.

The 2016 package passed by lawmakers and signed by Bryant will phase out Mississippi’s $260-million-a-year corporate franchise tax and cut $145 million in income taxes, raising the threshold for paying state income taxes to $10,000. Those reductions begin in 2018. The package will also lower self-employment taxes, cutting $10.2 million over three years beginning in 2017.

A legislative group established in mid-2016 to study state finances heard presentations from economist Nicole Kaeding with the Tax Foundation, a Washington-based group that analyzes federal, state and local taxes. She said Mississippi could generate revenue by eliminating tax exemptions on goods such as prescription drugs or services such as dog grooming.

“In general, we want to look at having a broad-based sales tax,” Kaeding said in September. “This includes not only goods, but it also should be including services.”

Sara Miller is a policy analyst for Mississippi-based Hope Policy Institute. In a blog post on the institute’s website in November, Miller wrote that state has a “particularly regressive” tax structure, including the 7 percent tax on groceries.

“Shifting to user-based taxes based on how much you spend will further increase the amount that low-income families pay in taxes,” Miller wrote.

House Speaker Philip Gunn said legislative leaders are evaluating whether to propose tax changes in 2017.

“We don’t feel any pressure to get anything done right now, this year, within the next three months, anyway,” Gunn said.

Mississippi tax collections have fallen short of projections during the first half of the current state budget year that started July 1. However, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said he would not consider any proposal to delay the tax cut package enacted during the 2016 session.

“My original proposal was to implement it over a 10-year period starting in 2017. We pushed that back to 2018 at the request of the House of Representatives,” Reeves said. “And so I think if there were going to be any major changes over the next several years in that particular bill, it’s likely to be regarding a faster implementation and not a slower implementation.”

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