Paul Hampton

Taxes for Dummies: A reference for the rest of us

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD 
 Paul Hampton
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Paul Hampton SUN HERALD

Rarely does the Legislature rise to the level of entertainment.

Occasionally, lawmakers will good-naturedly pick on newer members with the glee of a middle-schooler at recess. One, for example, once wondered if a tornado had hit a strip club in northern Mississippi because the sign out front said "topless."

You get the idea. It's even better now that they show it on TV via the Internet because I don't have to go to Jackson, or as I like to call it, "Not My Favorite Place."

The other day they were debating what they called a "dummy bill" in the Senate. Stop snickering. It's a gutted bill that essentially allows them to fill in the blanks later.

Kind of like a blank check, only with less accountability.

They say they just can't decide whether to raise the fuel tax, and possibly other "fees," to repair roads and bridges because they just don't know how much "revenue" the state will raise. Unfortunately, the deadline for deciding was Thursday. "Dummy bill" to the rescue.

For some in the Legislature, the word "dummy" was problematic. Guess they were afraid to give their constituents any ideas. One felt obligated to remind colleagues, "I'm no dummy," as if they might be inclined to believe otherwise.

For one day, at least, it beat soap operas for mid-afternoon TV.

They argued whether the roads in Mississippi were that bad. (I'd like to introduce them to a pothole known in these parts as "The Grand Canyon of the South.")

Rep. Willie Simmons, who killed his own gas-tax bill in his transportation committee, seemed almost as shy about the word "tax" during floor debate as others were about that "D-word." Rep. Barbara Blackmon suggested the D-bill be amended to provide stickers for every gas pump to remind motorists the Legislature was responsible for higher gas prices. Surprise! The amendment failed.

After consulting with the Magic 8 Ball, a Christmas gift from my editor, who apparently believes in gifts that help me with my job, I have a prediction.

Revenue is down and gas taxes will go up.

Revenue will go down because Mississippi, these days, isn't working. We have the highest unemployment rate in the nation. I predict the gas tax will be the vehicle for "revenue enhancement" because it's a consumption tax, the most unfair of all.

It's unfair because the people least able to afford it are hit the hardest. Those working people barely able to balance their household budgets, also known as Mississippians, will now spend more of that budget on a necessity. Gas isn't a necessity? How many of you walk to work?

There is a plan to cut the income tax to create jobs, a plan that has had somewhat limited success in places such as Kansas and Louisiana.

That prompted Becky Guidry of Gulfport to email all of the lawmakers. She wondered if a tax cut was the right thing to do at a time when the state could afford fewer and fewer services, adequate schools and safe roads and bridges for example. Rep. Karl Oliver of Winona answered.

Oliver responded in a way indicative of all that's wrong with our dysfunctional government.

"I see you are not a native of the Great State of Mississippi nor do you and I have similar political views. The people of our Great State overwhelmingly share my same or similar views on Government responsibility. I appreciate you going to the trouble to share yours with me, but quite frankly, and with all due respect, I could (sic) care less. I would, however, recommend that there are a rather large number of like minded citizens in Illinois that would love to see you return."

In other words, my way or the highway, which may or may not be passable.

Contact Paul Hampton, politics editor at the Sun Herald at 228-896-2330 or jphampton@sunherald.com.

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