CATEGORY: EDT Editorials
The Mississippi Senate wasted no time Tuesday and early Wednesday debating, passing and sending to the House a tax cut that would eliminate the state’s so-called “marriage penalty” for married couples.
The tax cut, which would be phased in over four years, would give married couples a $12,000 personal income exemption the same provided for two unmarried people living as a couple and claiming individual $6,000 exemptions.
House Speaker Tim Ford, who worked with Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove weeks before the the session convened planning for the legislation, indicated Wednesday the bill would get quick attention from representatives.
The reduction, proposed by Gov. Fordice as part of a larger tax cut package during previous sessions, won’t provide enormous relief on a household average. However, the cut replaces an unfair law with one that is balanced and equitable.
A tiny minority of the Senate voted against the bill as a matter of principle. The three who opposed it on final passage said the projected $50 million cost in revenues is too steep. The money, all three said, should be used for public education.
They’re concerned about the right priority, but seemingly without solid reasons for concern.
First, Senate Finance Chairman Hob Bryan of Amory, who brought the tax cut quickly to a vote and helped guide it to passage, is among the three or four strongest education supporters in the Legislature. Bryan, whose fiscal conservatism includes generating enough revenue to pay for the necessities of government, believes the state can absorb the reduction and meet its needs. Lt. Gov. Musgrove holds the same view, as does Speaker Ford.
The revenue projections, as noted earlier, reflect a slowing of the red-hot growth in recent years. However, the projection is far from gloomy.
The legislative leadership plans to push ahead for increased general funding for education and major pay raises for public school, junior college and university instructors. There’s a prudent spending limit in every revenue picture. The $50 million spending cut, spread over four years, doesn’t appear to push Mississippi beyond responsible limits.
The Legislature’s quick action on the tax cut, in fact, should clarify all other spending proposals expected during the 1997 session. Once the needed reduction has been made in the name of fairness, legislators have a clearer starting point from which to complete the budget process.