Bryant, McCoy urge cigarette resolution

JACKSON – The presiding officers of both the House and Senate expressed hope Monday that their negotiators will agree on a cigarette tax increase to keep car tag costs from skyrocketing in July.
At a news conference Monday, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate, and several House and Senate Republicans called on the House Democratic leadership to agree with them on a cigarette tax increase.
They want a smaller increase in the cigarette tax than do the House Democratic leaders.
The cigarette tax revenue is needed, they say, for a fund that provides money to local governments to hold down the cost of car tags.
Tax on the sale of vehicles normally supports the fund, but since car sales have dipped during the current economic slowdown, the fund lacks the revenue to keep car tags at their customary amount.
As a result, they are scheduled to go up by as much as 45 percent in July.
The Legislature is in recess until probably sometimes in May. Both House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, and Bryant said they hope House and Senate negotiators, who resume meetings today, can reach agreement on the car tag-cigarette tax issue.
“I believe enough is enough,” Bryant said. “We have to come together as Republicans and Democrats, to help offset the skyrocketing costs of car tags.”
Bryant said he wants to use cigarette tax revenue to deal with the car tag issue in the short run. He is asking McCoy to join him in forming a special legislative committee to deal with the issue in the long term.
The House leadership plan calls for an increase in the cigarette tax from 18 cents per pack to 75 cents, plus a $45 million tax on hospitals. McCoy said the proposal will take care of car tag costs and a Medicaid shortfall.
“The House plan will get the job done,” he said. “We’re fighting for ordinary Mississippi families during these extraordinary times. We don’t want car tags to go up.”
All agree the car tag issue must resolved.
“This is absolutely, positively not the time to increase the cost of car tags on Mississippians,” said Rep. Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo, who attended the Bryant news conference and called on the House leadership to accept the Senate position.
The Senate leadership has supported a $90 million tax on hospitals and a cigarette tax of 64 cents per pack.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/Daily Journal