- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi’s nearly 300 cities and towns could collectively get about $30 million more sales tax money under proposals lawmakers are considering, but it’s not clear whether those efforts will survive competition for money in the run-up to state elections in November.

Representatives passed House Bill 1149 Tuesday, which would send about $10.8 million in money collected from taxes voluntarily paid on Internet sales to cities. It goes to the Senate.

Two House committees passed House Bill 1110 - which would boost cities’ share of the 7-cent sales tax collected by the state by about $20 million a year - sending it to the full House.

“Our municipalities are having a tough time,” House Municipalities Committee Chairman Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, told House members while they were debating HB 1149. “They’ve been having a really tough time.”

The bill ultimately passed 92-23, but only after it survived various amendment attempts, including one to direct the money for school books.

“Are they having a tougher time than the schoolchildren of Mississippi?” Rep. Hank Zuber, R-Ocean Springs, asked Blackmon.

Cities have been trying to win authority to impose their own additional penny of sales tax, but lawmakers have consistently rejected that proposal. Mississippi Municipal League Executive Director Shari Veazey said many cities were struggling to pay for work on roads and other infrastructure, citing cities that borrow money just to repave streets.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said there’s no political support to allow cities to raise sales taxes.

“I think they realize that a local option sales tax has about as much chance with this Legislature as the sun rising in the west,” Smith said

HB 1110 would give cities 19.5 percent of state collections inside their boundaries, up from 18.5 percent. Being allowed to raise taxes by a full penny would raise city revenue by more than 14 times as much as HB 1110.

The House debate illustrated the tensions of an election year. Lawmakers have some new money to spend, but after years of austerity, there are many different interests contending for it. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, warned that handing out money to cities for other purposes would harm lawmakers’ ability to give more to schools.

“If you really want to do these things and you want to fund them, please stop diverting money from the general fund,” Frierson told his committee, as it debated a pay raise for state troopers, moments after the House had approved HB 1149.

It’s not clear if either measure will survive the Senate.

“I have a feeling that in the Senate, it’s dead on arrival, but at least it would give us a chance to keep it alive,” Smith said of his committee passing HB 1110 with a clause requiring it to return to the House for more debate.

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Online: House Bill 1149: http://bit.ly/1vr9KX6 , House Bill 1110: http://bit.ly/1zQFDtP

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy

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