House leaders at odds

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The chairmen of the House’s two money committees found themselves on differing sides Tuesday with top appropriator Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, opposing some of the tax exemptions proposed by the Ways and Means Committee.
Frierson, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, provided to House colleagues a study of the amount of money the tax exemptions proposed by Ways and Means would take from an already cash-strapped general fund.
“I just want people to start thinking about it,” Frierson said to reporters after one Ways and Means bill was defeated and another not taken up by chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, at least in part because of Frierson’s actions.
“There are consequences in politics,” Frierson said. “You can’t be a narcissistic populist. There are consequences to actions. Populism is wrong whether liberal or conservative. If it is done just to be popular, it is not right.”
It is unusual for the chairs of the top two money committees, viewed as key allies to the speaker, to be on opposing sides, though it has happened on occasion in recent years.
Frierson said tax breaks passed by the House this session would take at least $50 million from the general fund at a time when the Legislature was short by $174 million in funding all the critical needs identified by the House.
Frierson did not speak on the House floor. But after he handed out his sheet detailing the costs of tax exemptions, a bill providing a tax exemption for pollution control equipment did not garner the three-fifths majority needed for passage. Frierson did not vote.
After that proposal was defeated, Smith opted not to bring up a bill to phase out the corporate franchise tax for manufacturers that would cost $45 million annually after three years.
Smith also reacted angrily on the House floor, saying, “Do you think I would let my committee deplete the general fund? Do you think when we take something out of the general fund we are not expecting to get something back? Come on folks, y’all are good business people.”
Smith bemoaned the fact the tax breaks passed by the House last year were killed by the Senate with the exception of an inventory tax for business that was “as weak as popcorn poot” because the House was forced to take the version of “the House of Lords,” as he often refers to the Senate.
The House did pass a tax exemption on income over $100,000 annually to try to lure new physicians to rural areas. Some legislators expressed concern that the definition of rural was too broad in the bill. Smith promised to better define the definition as the measure moves through the process.
The Senate Finance Committee passed a bond package totaling $11 million. But Finance Chair Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said the measure was written in a way to keep all bond proposals alive throughout the process.
The state generally issues bonds to fund long-term construction projects. It is expected that both chambers will be willing to pass a much larger package than $11 million.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com