By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
Associated Press Writer
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A commission appointed by Gov. Haley
Barbour has released a preliminary draft of recommended changes to
the state tax structure - a test balloon, of sorts, before the
group puts its list in final form and sends it to the Capitol.
Only legislators can vote to change taxes.
The list released Friday includes some politically sensitive
items such as a suggestion that the state start collecting sales
taxes on items that are now exempt, such as newspapers and
commercial fishing boats.
Barbour said the commission is set to meet next week to discuss
the draft report. The public meeting is 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the
Sparkman Auditorium at the state Agriculture Museum in Jackson.
The commission is scheduled to release a firm set of
recommendations by the end of the month.
In its report Friday, the commission said it has considered
several options to increase Mississippi's cigarette excise tax,
which at 18 cents is one of the lowest in the nation.
The draft did not recommend a specific tobacco tax increase, but
said the commission had received two proposals. One was to set the
tax at 36 cents a pack - the average of 10 southern states. Another
recommendation was to set the tax at 50 cents a pack - the average
of the four surrounding states.
The draft report says Mississippi should cut franchise and
"The Commission believes that growth and job creation must be a
primary focus for any recommended changes to the existing tax
structure," the report said.
Barbour, a Republican, appointed about 30 business people,
professors, economists and state and local officials to the
commission several months ago. The group has met several times to
examine tax trends in Mississippi and other states.
Barbour said Friday that the commission's goal was "making the
system more fair and equitable for our taxpayers."
The commission says Mississippi could "reduce the tax burden"
by changing the standard deduction and personal exemptions for
personal income taxes. For example, the existing standard deduction
for a married couple filing jointly is $4,600; the group says that
could go to $6,000. The existing personal exemption for married
couples filed jointly is $12,000; the group says that could go to
Mississippi collects a 7 percent sales tax on most items,
including groceries and clothing. The state does not allow local
sales taxes. The commission's report said that the neighboring
states of Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee allow local sales
taxes, making the total sales tax rates higher in each of those
places than in Mississippi.
The commission says Mississippi should consider allowing
municipalities to set local sales taxes for specific projects, if
at least 60 percent of local voters approve.
State Democratic Party Chairman Jamie Franks said it's
"offensive" that a sales tax cut on groceries wasn't recommended.
"Something simply isn't right when the nation's poorest state
continues to charge a 7 percent sales tax on groceries," Franks
said in a statement. "This is an unnecessary burden to place on
people, some of whom simply can't afford to pay the tax especially
when gasoline sells for $3.50 and $4 a gallon."
On the Net:
Draft of commission's tax report: