By Ted Carter
Mississippi’s state-hopping governor has hospital administrators across the state scratching their heads and wondering: What’s he talking about?
And smokers? He’s got them choking on their Luckys.
What Gov. Haley Barbour’s talking about is raising taxes – something he says he hasn’t done but President Obama has.
In a speech to the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Monday, Barbour blamed Obama for “explosive spending, skyrocketing deficits, gargantuan debt, calls for record tax increases, government-run health care, out-of-control regulations, and anti-growth energy policy.” But back home in Mississippi, said Barbour, nary a tax has been raised. In fact, “We dug out of a $720 million budget hole in two years without raising anybody’s taxes.”
OK. No taxes have been raised – if you leave out the ones that have been raised.
While a lot of the national media probably yawned and saw Barbour’s verbal attack on Obama as just another day of gearing up for a White House run, the Mother Jones website (motherjones.com/politics) fact-checked the governor’s claims.
“Barbour has raised taxes half a dozen times, on everything from cigarettes to businesses to care facilities for the mentally disabled,” the web site says.
But Barbour regularly claims otherwise, as he did Monday in Chi-town. The theory is that he thinks if he says something often enough it becomes true.
But here is a little of what he left out in Monday’s talk, Mother Jones notes:
In 2003, before Barbour came into office, the state’s tax on hospitals totaled $1.50 per bed per night, and the daily bed tax for nursing homes and care facilities for the mentally disabled was $4. All that changed under Barbour. In 2004, he hiked the daily bed tax to $6 for nursing homes, children’s psychiatric facilities, and care centers for the mentally disabled. In 2005, he signed a bill more than doubling the hospital daily bed tax. And in 2009, Barbour approved legislation that effectively increased taxes on Mississippi’s approximately 110 hospitals by between $60 million and $90 million to make up for a $90 million shortfall caused by a reduction in federal funding, according to Michael Bailey, senior vice president of the Mississippi Hospital Association.
In the years before the 2009 deal, Barbour had tried to impose a revenue tax on Mississippi’s hospitals to fill that $90 million shortfall. But Democrats and Republicans in the Mississippi legislature rejected that proposal, which Barbour insisted wasn’t a new tax (he said he was merely reinstating a tax from years past.) The health care industry disagreed.
Bailey says Barbour’s revenue tax was indeed a new one, and would have added an additional $225 million in taxes for the state’s hospitals. Ultimately, those hardest hit by new taxes have been sick people who use hospitals or nursing homes because the added expense is passed on to them, Bailey explains. Pointing to Barbour’s record, he says, “It’s a pattern of trying to balance the budget by raising taxes on sick people.”
In May 2009, facing a revenue shortfall of $400 million, Barbour signed into law the first of two cigarette excise taxes, nearly quadrupling the rate from 18 cents a pack to 68 cents. Then, in July, Barbour levied a 25 cents-a-pack tax against cheaper cigarettes. At the time, the increases were viewed as a way to bring Mississippi’s cigarette taxes on par with other Southern states and generate revenue for the chronically cash-strapped state. But earlier this year, Barbour insisted that wasn’t case: “We did it for health reasons, not budget reasons.”
Little noticed in 2010 was a tax buried in Barbour’s “Equity and Solvency Bill,” legislation intended to bolster the unemployment insurance trust fund in Mississippi. For businesses, the bill was a mixed bag. According to Ed Sivak, director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, while the bill sought to build up the state’s unemployment fund and lower the tax burden on new businesses, it also increased unemployment taxes–from a maximum of $378 per worker to $756–on businesses that lay off workers.
For the record, Barbour’s camp is saying the hospital industry asked for the tax increase and the smoke tax was just something he signed after it passed the Legislature.