|May 12, 2009||Governor wants more tobacco taxes, some question motive||2 comments|
|May 11, 2009||Bryant not crazy with special session within regular session||1 comments|
|April 30, 2009||Is hospital tax needed?||2 comments|
|April 29, 2009||Charles Young worked to better state he loved||no comments|
JACKSON -- Haley Barbour, who has spent much of his tenure as governor blocking efforts to increase Mississippi's cigarette tax, is expected to sign the 50-cent-per-pack increase approved last week by the Legislature.
But now, surprise, surprise, the Republican governor says that is not enough. He wants additional taxes on tobacco products.
Barbour has been advocating this session an additional tax on the companies that did not participate in the settlement of a lawsuit the state filed against some tobacco companies in the 1990s. These smaller companies can sell cigarettes cheaper, Barbour says, because they are not making annual payments to the state as part of the lawsuit settlement.
He also wants smokeless tobacco to be taxed by weight instead of a percentage of its price.
In both instances, Barbour says it is a matter of tax fairness. And both proposals will provided additional revenue to the state.
In both cases, Barbour has points. As a matter of fact, in the past, the House Democratic leadership has tried to increase the tax on the smaller, non-participating cigarette companies and that effort was blocked by Barbour's Republican allies in the Legislature.
Now Barbour is for it, but the House Democratic leadership is against it.
It doesn't help Barbour's cause that the big tobacco companies favor both of his proposals and that they would be helped financially if the governor's proposals passed.
It is not forgotten that Barbour for years lobbied for big tobacco companies and that the Washington, D.C., lobbying firms he still receives payments from continues to lobby for big tobacco.
In essence, some legislators believe the governor is for the additional taxes only to help big tobacco companies.
But another alternative may be that Barbour has come to the conclusion the additional tobacco taxes are good public policy whether big tobacco is for them or not.
JACKSON -- Count Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant as those not fond of Gov. Haley Barbour's special session within the regular session.
Last week when the Legislature was in regular session to work on adopting a state budget, the Republican Barbour called a special session for some items he was interested in to be considered.
Throughout last week, the Legislature would jump from regular session to special session and vice versa. On more than one occasion, the Legislature's presiding officers, Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, in the House, and Bryant in the Senate, would have to adjourn one session and begin another to stay within the often complex parliamentary rules.
At one point, the Senate was debating an issue, and Bryant had to stop in the middle of the debate and convene the special session because the Senate had moved earlier to re-convene the special session at that particular time.
Bryant said having a special session within a regular session caused undue confusion.
"I hope we don't do that again," Bryant said recently.
Barbour had called a special session within a regular session once before in his first term. But it had not been done previously in recent memory.
And Barbour's previous special session within a regular session was called on the weekend of a regular session so the item on the special session agenda essentially had legislators' full attention. Last week the two chambers were jumping back and forth.
JACKSON -- Normally, when legislators are appointed to conference committees to work out the differences between the House and Senate, they try to uphold the position of their respective chambers.
Both the House and Senate voted not to place an additional tax on hospitals to fund Medicaid if there were federal stimulus funds available to plug any shortfall.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Sringer, D-Montrose, said federal stimulus funds are available to do just that. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, and Gov. Haley Barbour disagree.
They advocate a $90 million tax on hospitals. Stringer says he is willing to compromise at $45 million.
Nunnelee also says the tax is needed to solve any long-term funding woes with Medicaid. The federal stimulus funds are supposed to run out late in calendar year 2010.
Some have said it is irresponsible to not tax hospitals to fix Medicaid so that one-time money, such as the stimulus funds, will not have to continue to be used.
But are people who advocate that saying to not use the stimulus funds because they are one-time money? No one -- not even the most ardent opponent of the stimulus package -- has publicly advocated that.
Then, if Stringer is right and there is enough stimulus funds to fix Medicaid, is it wise to pass a tax now for some future year or is the correct course of action to pass a tax when it is needed?
Normally, Republicans say they are against taxes -- especially unnecessary taxes.
The question is whether a hospital tax is needed and, if so, how much? In coming days, when House and Senate leaders finish their budget proposals, that question will be answered.
JACKSON -- Several years ago, Charles Young, D-Meridian, was asked to be on a panel because of his position as chair of the House Universities and Colleges Committee.
Young made a lot of points that day, but he placed the greatest emphasis not on universities and higher education, but on providing early childhood education. He said for the state to progress that must happen.
Now everyone from Republican Gov. Haley Barbour on down is talking about the importance of early childhood education. When Young made his points, everyone was not. It would have been easy for Young that day to just talk about the universities and colleges that he provided oversight of as chair of the House committee. That is what members of the audience expected.
But Young was talking about what he believed was important for the progress of the state.
Charles Young died Wednesday morning. He has had physical limitations in recent years, but mentally remained sharp as a member of a legislative chamber he loved in a state he loved.
In the era he grew up, it would have been easy for Young, age 77, an African American, to not love Mississippi. But Young did and worked to make it better.