House Passes Tax Changes

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The Mississippi House voted 90-30 Wednesday to pass a bill that will increase the state's cigarette tax this year and next. It was 18 more votes than it needed for the required three-fifths majority.

The bill goes to Gov. Haley Barbour, who said this week that he opposes both parts of it. However, the governor has stopped short of pledging to veto it.

The measure, which would also phase out the grocery tax by 2014, was described by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Percy Watson as the largest tax cut the state has seen in 30 years.

Several lawmakers asked repeatedly why the House should vote on the bill when they believe there are still significant, unanswered questions about how it will affect cities that depend on grocery tax collections.

Mississippi currently charges 18 cents' excise tax on every pack of cigarettes, one of the lowest rates in the nation. The bill would bump the tax up to 75 cents a pack July 1 and $1.00 a pack a year later.

Officials say Mississippi has the highest state grocery tax in the nation.

The state charges seven percent on food, just as it does on most other retail items. The bill would reduce the tax over several years until it disappears in 2014.