Governor urges a look at tax exemptions

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour, making his final appearance before the Mississippi Legislature, urged House and Senate members to look at closing loopholes that exempt certain items from the state’s 7 percent sales tax.
Barbour, 64, will leave office Tuesday when fellow Republican Phil Bryant, the current lieutenant governor, is sworn in as the state’s next governor. Barbour is constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third term.
The governor said his traditional State of the State speeches, given each year to a joint session of the Legislature, were directed to the general public. But he said he was addressing Wednesday’s speech in the House chamber “to you – the legislators – more you the individual than the Legislature.”
He received a warm reception, including a standing ovation in the chamber where he had given eight State of the State speeches and also a speech to a joint legislative session weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged south Mississippi in 2005.
The speech, which was attended by some statewide officials and statewide officials-elect who will be sworn in today, was part political philosophy and part a rehash of old issues that he urged legislators to reconsider now that Republicans will control both the House and Senate.
“I promised you eight years ago I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but it turned out to be a bunch,” he said in telling legislators to be patient with the new leadership and to work together when possible and to be civil in disagreements.
As usual, the conservative Republican urged holding down spending, but acknowledged that government had a function – even going as far as to say “we need government regulation … I oppose bad regulation.”
In the area of taxes, Barbour said he supports lower taxes, but said that the multiple exemptions to state sales taxes, which vary from an exemption for farm equipment, to prescriptions drugs, to various other items, such as professional services, should be reconsidered.
“If everybody is paying, the tax rate will be lower,” said Barbour. “Therefore, I urge you to consider whether we are benefiting from all the exemptions.”
The outgoing governor again urged legislators to take into account the cash reserves that local school districts, community colleges and universities had when budgeting for them.
If education entities cannot sustain cuts in a tough budget year, “they have enough reserves to fall back on,” he said.
School districts have said their reserves vary based on what time of year they are viewed. The reserves would be much larger at the first of the year when local property taxes are collected. But those reserves are used as the year progresses.
Gov.-elect Bryant said he did not dispute what Barbour said, but had asked the state auditor to do an extensive study on education reserves. When he served as auditor, Bryant said he recommended school districts maintain reserves that equaled about 5 percent of their total budget.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com