Analysis: Missing cost estimates create questions

If you want a lesson on how the legislative process in Mississippi sometimes turns from fact-based analysis to “trust me” politics, sit in on a meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The process of carving out tax benefits for individual industries was on view last week as lawmakers debated the wisdom of taxing carbon dioxide or cutting taxes on heavy truck parts.

In charge of taxes and borrowing, House Ways and Means and Senate Finance are among the Legislature’s most powerful committees. The House committee, especially, is willing to consider many requests, whether it’s cutting the sales tax rate on motorcycles or lending money to set up or expand grocery stores in economically depressed areas.

As is true in most committees, many bills have their roots in lobbyists. For example, while Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, was promoting a tax cut on truck parts meant to induce more truck-repair business in Mississippi, a lobbyist was shuttling him notes.

Legislative rules say any bill that spends money or cuts taxes is supposed to have a fiscal note attached when it comes out of committee. The rules say state agencies including the Legislative Budget Office — the Department of Revenue, the Department of Finance and Administration and the Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review — are supposed to write the notes, which project how a bill would affect how much money the state is collecting.

The rules also say that any time a bill comes to the floor without a fiscal note attached, any representative or senator can seek a majority vote to force such an estimate.

Sunherald
3/2/14