The Clarion-Ledger, 3/31/9

Mississippi lawmakers revived talks on a cigarette tax hike Monday and agreed on other bills that include allowing some Rankin Countians to vote on liquor sales and giving the state more power over failing school districts.

The agreements came on a key deadline for compromise on general bills and constitutional amendments.

Lawmakers are planning to recess today and return in May or June, when they hope to know more about how federal stimulus dollars will help shore up the state budget.

Ongoing negotiations over a proposed hospital tax to help pay for Medicaid are expected to keep some lawmakers at the state Capitol until later this week. House and Senate leaders failed to agree on House Bill 105 late Monday, but they used a procedural move to keep it alive.

Legislators renewed talks to hike the state’s 18-cent cigarette tax after a Senate leader said he would consider a higher number. House Bill 364 died last week after the two chambers reached an impasse over the House’s offer of 80 cents per pack and a Senate proposal of 60 cents.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, said he’d consider a total tax of 64 cents, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Percy Watson said he hopes to reach an agreement today. Lawmakers want to use the tax revenue to prevent the cost of car tags from doubling this year.