Deadline Nearing for Action

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The bill sent to the governor by the Mississippi Legislature would cut the seven percent grocery tax in half and would increase the cigarette excise tax to 80 cents a pack July 1, 2006, and then to $1.00 a pack a year later. The excise tax is currently 18 cents a pack.

The governor can either veto the bill, sign it or let it become law without his signature. Barbour vetoed a similar bill earlier this session, but lawmakers did not try to override his veto.

That bill would have eliminated the grocery tax over several years, while increasing the cigarette tax to 75 cents a pack this July 1 and $1.00 a pack a year later. Barbour says he opposes any tax increase.

Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Robertson said he hopes the governor won't veto the second bill.

Officials say Mississippi has the highest state grocery tax rate and one of the lowest cigarette excise tax rates in the nation.

In addition, the bill would require tobacco companies not included in the 1997 lawsuit settlement to pay 43 cents per pack to match what other cigarette manufacturers pay.

The governor said late Tuesday he would "take action" on the bill Wednesday, but would not say if he'll sign it or veto it.