Municipal sales tax option legislation dies

JACKSON — Mississippi lawmakers have ignored, and killed, two bills that would have allowed cities to impose a local sales tax.

Under the bills that died yesterday, cities could have held elections to see if citizens approved of an additional 1 percent tax for specific capital projects. If at least 60 percent of voters said yes, the tax could have been set and the money used to improve streets or water systems or to build parks.

House Bill 523 had passed the Municipalities Committee earlier, but it died when its chairman, Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, chose not to bring it up for debate of the entire House before a deadline. Yesterday was the final day for the House and Senate to consider bills that were filed this session in their own chamber.

Blackmon said there wasn’t enough support for the local option sales tax, though he approves of its intent.

“That bill and bills like it have been up for years and years and years and the Legislature has been reluctant to give a blanket approval for them,” Blackmon said. ” (It’s) a bill that would allow every municipality to raise their taxes an extra penny, and right now with the membership we have, I think a lot of them don’t want to get tagged later on, a lot of them, with having raised taxes. Because anyway you cut it, it will raise taxes.”

Senate Bill 2145 died in the Senate Finance Committee.

Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson said in a phone interview that he was disappointed the bills died. He said the ability to levy a sales tax would have been a significant help to his fast-growing city.

“Once you become a mayor and look around and realize what’s going on, you see that almost 100 percent of Mississippi mayors are for this,” Johnson said. “Our people want things and this is only way to give them to the people.”

The Mississippi Economic Council, which is a state chamber of commerce, also supported the bill. President Blake Wilson said the council had long been a proponent of the idea.

“It’s a good model,” Wilson said. “If it doesn’t pass this year, it’s one of these things that, over time, may develop support.”

Senator Hob Bryan, D-Amory, has long opposed the local sales tax proposal. He has argued that rural citizens would be unfairly taxed for services they don’t use when they go to cities to shop.

Mississippi sets a 7 percent sales tax on most retail items, including groceries. Some cities have received legislative approval over the years to set local taxes on restaurant meals and hotel rooms. Mayors were pushing the local option sales tax as something that would be available to all cities and towns, without having to go to the Capitol individually to seek permission.

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