Hewes: Tax would hurt only a few hospitals

Senate President Pro Tempore Billy Hewes said Monday lawmakers should have solved Medicaid funding shortfalls long ago by passing the hospital tax, which has been touted by Republican Gov. Haley Barbour but staunchly opposed by House Democrats.

Hewes, R-Gulfport, met with the Sun Herald on Monday and said the Mississippi Hospital Association has endorsed Barbour’s hospital tax plan and it would only negatively affect a few hospitals. Paying the tax would allow hospitals to receive several times the amount of money they spent in federal funds in return. While they’ve said they support a cigarette tax, according to the Associated Press, the MHA has said they would support Barbour’s plan, which has passed the Senate but still faces strong opposition in the House.

“It is not very often we have a solution laid at our feet,” Hewes said.

Hewes and other Republicans say cigarette tax increases are almost certain, as a tax study commission appointed by Barbour is evaluating changes to the entire tax code, and is expected to recommend increases to tobacco taxes when it releases its findings the end of August. The state cigarette tax is 18 cents per pack, one of the lowest in the nation.

The AP reported late last week that Senate leadership, including Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, offered a 50 cents per pack increase to be passed during the 2009 legislative session, if the House would agree to pass the hospital tax and agree to a state income tax cut. House leaders rejected the plan.

House Medicaid Chairman Rep. Dirk Dedeaux, D-Sellers, said Monday the plan would tax hospitals the same amount as has been proposed all along, but would create a second tax for cigarettes that would fund an income tax cut.

Sun Herald