Minor – Historic low lack of fortitude on tax increases

They just don’t make many Mississippi legislators anymore with guts enough in time of need to vote for taxes or programs that a sizable portion of voters oppose.

In 1932 Mississippi was in a state of financial collapse. There was only $1326 in the state treasury. School teachers and state employees were being paid with script that they could cash only at a discount, if at all. Legislators were threatened with defeat if they voted for the sales tax. After bitter debate, the Emergency Revenue Act of 1932 passed by one vote, levying a 2 percent tax retail sales tax, the nation’s first.

In 1954 and 1955, through lengthy regular and special legislative sessions, Mississippi lawmakers – pushed by Gov. Hugh White – boldly enacted the Minimum Foundation Education Program aimed at building schools for black children equal to whites, and equalizing teacher salaries between the races. To raise $22 million in new revenue – a big chunk of money for those days – lawmakers enacted a 14 percent surtax on top of eight separate taxes (the income tax and oil and gas severance tax being the most controversial) subject to expire in two years.

In 1982, William Winter pushed lawmakers to stay in special session right up to Christmas Eve to enact his noted Education Reform Act. It established free public kindergartens, making them part of the state school system, mandated compulsory school attendance, created higher standards for classroom teachers and substantially raised teacher pay. To produce some $220 million in new revenue for the program, lawmakers raised the sales tax a half-cent and reduced some deductions in the income tax schedule.

That’s why it is laughable to see lawmakers merely nibbling around the edges trying for three years to raise the state’s ridiculously low cigarette tax and failing to raise it a few cents.

Bill Minor
Neshoba Democrat