EDITORIAL: Progressive taxation

Mississippi always should be open to suggestions about making its tax policies fairer, with rates and applications reflective of proportionality and the ability to pay more than meeting the political needs of special interests

The Center for a Better South a “pragmatic” think tank based in Charleston, S.C. – Thursday presented its new report on progressive taxation policy at a Stennis Institute of Government lunch meeting in Jackson. The institute is research arm of Mississippi State University, and it has a Jackson office.

The idea of progressive taxation is basically simple: tax people fairly, never loading up on anyone disproportionately, and examine every kind of taxation.

Mississippi isn't known for its tax reform zeal. Our statewide sales tax is among the highest in the nation even though we have the lowest per capita income – and a higher percentage of people living in poverty than nationwide.

We also have a low state income tax structure that can leave the highest income citizens paying less proportionately than the poor and those in middle income brackets.

Mississippi has started taxing some services, eliminated some corporate loopholes and strengthened accountability, but we remain stuck on many issues:

– We have not raised cigarette sales taxes to the national average;

– We have not adjusted senior-citizen tax policies to reflect ability to pay rather than age alone;

– We don't have a sales tax holiday giving a break, for example, to parents making substantial back-to-school purchases at the beginning of the academic year. The holiday also would encourage in-state shopping, which would support Mississippi's retail business community.

– We end our income tax brackets at $10,000 and above, which eliminates progressive taxation for a huge chunk of citizens. The point is not to increase taxes, but to practice fairness so that lower income citizens don't bear a a unfair burden on their income.

Everybody likes tax breaks, and some are deserved, but unfair taxation ultimately hurts a state's or city's or county's prosperity. It reduces spendable income disproportionately and tends to mire people more deeply in economic disadvantage.

Tax issues always are complex, and they are controversial from the start of discussions.

Mississippi would do itself a favor – ultimately serving all citizens – in reexamining tax policies with the goal of maximizing fairness.

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