- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - House members passed a pared-down tax cut Tuesday, even as the chamber’s leaders indicated they were still grasping for a way to package tax reductions with increases in transportation funding.

The House voted 76-42 to pass an amended version of Senate Bill 2858. It now calls for cutting $143 million in personal income taxes beginning Jan. 1, raising the threshold for paying state income taxes to $10,000. Anyone making that much would get a $150 tax cut.

The measure moves back to the Senate, where the original measure calling for $575 million in corporate franchise, income tax and self-employment tax cuts has been one of Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ top priorities.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said he’d still like to combine cuts with some way to generate more revenue for state roads and bridges.

“I think there needs to be a seamless, unified approach to all of that,” Gunn said after the vote.

But it’s not clear whether lawmakers could insert language into a relatively limited bill to accomplish all their aims under legislative rules. And Tuesday’s disjointed debate again exposed cross-currents ripping apart efforts to create a grand bargain to cut some taxes while raising others to pay for road and bridge improvements. The House’s main effort to do that collapsed last week when many Republicans demanded more cuts to the Mississippi Department of Transportation to fill what department leaders say is a need for more than $500 million each year.

Rep. Robert Foster, R-Hernando, was among Republicans Tuesday who tried to push for the Senate’s full tax cut.

“The only way to force government to be more efficient is to cut this budget,” said the freshman, who cut his political teeth opposing a city tax in Hernando.

He was supported by Rep. Joel Bomgar, R-Madison, another freshman who questioned why House Republicans supported a $1-billion-plus move to phase out the state income tax last year before elections, but are lukewarm to a smaller cut this year.

“There is no reason why, if a tax cut was a good idea last year, it’s a bad idea this year,” Bomgar said.

Their effort was defeated amid a worsening state budget picture.

“We brought out the mildest form we can to try to keep this legislation alive,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus.

House members, who already voted in favor of creating a state lottery twice this year, did back an amendment by Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, saying the tax cut couldn’t take effect until a lottery is enacted.

But representatives turned down Democratic efforts to raise money for roads by reducing tax exemptions.

Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, blamed Republicans for inaction, saying their aversion to collecting more money risks a bridge collapsing under a school bus and killing people.

“There’s a bridge out there with somebody’s name on it,” said Johnson, the former House Transportation Committee chairman. “Somebody’s going to have to cross it. But when that happens, look in the mirror.”


Online: Senate Bill 2858: https://bit.ly/1XfcDTY


Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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