House Appropriations Chair Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, has proposed a referendum for voters to decide whether they want to raise taxes to offset further budget cuts.
There has been speculation that the proposal would deal with so-called "sin taxes," such as levies on liquor and casinos. But Stringer said Thursday the details of what would be in the proposal have not been worked out.
Besides, the proposal would have to make it through the legislative process, where it could be changed from the original concept, before it it put before the voters.
"If it passes, the taxes would go in," Stringer said. "If it doesn't ... We have come too far in the past 20 or 30 years and have made too much progress to lose it in one year."
Stringer was referring to Gov. Haley Barbour's recent statement to state agencies telling them to anticipate additional budget cuts of as much as 15 percent during the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.
The reason is an anticipated shortfall of about $400 million in state revenue.
Those cuts would be on top of reductions during the past three years that have affected most of state government, including the elimination of teaching posts and the furloughing of some teachers and other state employees.
"We are going to have a tax increase anyway, no matter what," Stringer said.
With reduced state funding, he said, tuition will go up at universities and community colleges. "In my opinion, that is a tax."
The same holds true for ad valorem taxes on the local level for the schools, he said. "It is just a matter of what you want to tax," he said.
In 2001, the Legislature opted to let the voters decide whether they wanted to keep the old state flag, which was offensive to some because of its ties to the Civil War, or to adopt a new flag.
A vote on a proposed tax increase would be similar.
It would have to pass both the House and Senate by a three-fifths margin since all tax issues require a 60 percent majority. Then it would have to be signed into law by Barbour. Then it would have to go on the ballot to get public approval.
If Barbour vetoed the proposal, it would take a two-thirds majority to override his veto.
"As far as raising taxes, I am against that," said Rep. Lester "Bubba" Carpenter, R-Burnsville. "As far as a referendum letting the people decide, I would support that. I think that is a fair way.
"But as far as the Legislature directly raising taxes, I think we are taxed enough."
Stringer's proposal would be binding, as the flag vote was. In the early 1990s, there was a non-binding statewide vote on the lottery.
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