Tobacco tax, college desegregation money among 2018 issues for MS lawmakers

Mississippi last increased its cigarette tax in 2009. Now, about 20 health advocacy groups are pushing a cigarette tax increase of $1.50 a pack, plus “parallel” increases on chewing tobacco. The two Republican leaders of the tax-writing committees – House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Smith of Columbus and Senate Finance Chairman Joey Fillingane of Sumrall – said chances of approving the full request are slim….

…Mississippi’s three historically black universities face another decline in funding with the expiration of a 15-year agreement from a lawsuit settlement. Jake Ayers Jr., a parent, sued the state in 1975, saying the three universities had been neglected. A 2002 settlement of the case has provided Alcorn State University, Jackson State University and Mississippi Valley State University more than $450 million designed to help them catch up to what the state spent on its five universities that were once all white. The current state budget includes $6.7 million in settlement funding for the final year such spending is mandated. Sen. Willie Simmons, a Democrat from Cleveland, says African-American members of the Legislature will fight to maintain spending, even if it’s no longer legally required.