Earlier this month, the Department of Revenue announced it would no longer make available to the public its monthly report of state tax collections. At the time, Kathy Waterbury, a spokeswoman for DOR, said to talk with the Legislative Budget Committee when she was asked why the report would not be available.
Tony Greer, executive director of the Legislative Budget Office that provides staff support for the Legislative Budget Committee, said the goal is for his staff to provide the only monthly revenue report that would be in a simpler format and would provide more information.
But Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said he does not understand why the Department of Revenue should not continue to make available the tax information, which it is responsible for collecting and compiling.
“It is just very disturbing to call the Department of Revenue and ask for information and be told that information will come from the Legislative Budget Office,” Bryan said recently. “This is another example of the lieutenant governor and the speaker intervening with a state agency (to stop them from distributing information). It is wrong.”
But Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said there is no malicious intent.
“Unlike the incomplete piecemeal reports of the past, this improved report provides taxpayers access to all revenue data in a concise, easy-to-understand format,” Reeves spokeswoman Laura Hipp said in an emailed response.
She said discussions by officials with the Legislative Budget Office and departments of Finance and Administration and Revenue led to the new consolidated report.
The heads of all three agencies are relatively new – appointed to their positions during 2016.
“Lt. Gov. Reeves really appreciates their work on behalf of our taxpayers,” Hipp said.
The Department of Revenue has long had reports ready at the first of the month detailing tax collections from the previous month. Those taxes – such as those on retail items, personal income, corporations, casino winnings and others – account for the bulk of the state’s revenue used to fund education, public health, law enforcement and other aspects of the $6 billion state budget.
But the state has other sources of money not collected by the Department of Revenue. Those sources for years have included earnings on state investments and funds from settlements of lawsuits by the Office of Attorney General, among others. Those sources of revenue have been growing in recent years while tax collections have been sluggish.
Those sources are collected by the Department of Finance and Administration. The Budget Committee compiles reports later in the month detailing revenue collected through the Department of Revenue and from the Department of Finance and Adminstration.
“We are in the process of reformatting the revenue report so that it is easier to understand and contains more information,” Greer said. “…LBO will be collecting all revenue data from Department of Revenue as well as Department of (Finance and) Administration and incorporating into the new report.”
But Bryan said there is no reason for DOR not to release its report.
“For decades, the Department of Revenue has provided solid information. It is not political. It is just factual,” Bryan said.
Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis, the House Democratic leader, said, he is not that familiar with the issue, “But as long the information gets out, I don’t have a problem with it. But tight control is just kind of what (legislative leaders) do. They have six people making all the decisions.”