Opinion – 3/17/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 17, 2006

The Panolian: OPINIONS

 From the 3/17/06 issue of The Panolian :                 
Veto message reeks of smoke, if not mirrors

"We don’t represent issues that are inconsistent with what we believe in."

                                                                          – Haley Barbour to the New York Times in 2001

Despite Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s tedious justification of his veto on Wednesday of Senate Bill 3084 which would cut sales tax on groceries in half and raise taxes cigarettes, we remain unconvinced.

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Prior to his return to Mississippi to seek state political office, Barbour was one of Washington’s most successful and influential lobbyists. Among his lobbying firm’s best clients were U. S. tobacco companies seeking favors from Congress.

As with most legislation, the devil is in the details. Details of Senate Bill 3084 include raising Mississippi’s per pack tax from 18 cents, second lowest in the nation, to 80 cents per pack on July 1 and to $1 per pack one year later. It also levies an additional 43 cents per pack tax on cigarettes produced by companies which did not participate in the 1990s tobacco lawsuit settlement. That extra levy would increase by at least 3 percent annually. The per pack tax increase would hardly be welcomed by Big Tobacco at a time, as the Governor’s veto statement pointed out, that cigarette smoking is declining.

Indeed, that decline in the number of people smoking cigarettes is one of the very reasons the governor singled out for opposing the tax swap measure. However, his statement ignores potential savings in the state’s health care costs. He also ignored the impact of what happens when money a former smoker spent on cigarettes is freed for discretionary spending elsewhere.

The governor further eschews projections of future tax collections. He states correctly that no one can accurately make those predictions with certainty. Yet every year, the legislature and every other elected budgeting entity anywhere makes budgets for future periods based on past performance.

Can future income be forecast exactly? Of course not. Do we not every day in the private and public sector make educated guesses on future needs based on past needs? Of course, and there’s always a chance something will change. When that happens, we are forced to adjust.

With Governor Barbour’s veto, he has told us that we can’t take this chance in this select arena of cigarette taxation. Too risky.

Instead, we will continue to meet our budget by leaving the high sales tax on groceries. We will leave the taxes on cigarettes alone.

And again, where there’s smoke …



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