- Associated Press - Saturday, August 5, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi tax collections looked better than expected for the first month of the budget year.

The state took in more money this July than during the same month a year ago.

“One month doesn’t set a trend,” Revenue Commissioner Herb Frierson told The Associated Press. “We need to watch it for the next three or four.”

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant had to make multiple rounds of budget cuts in the past year because revenue fell short of expectations.

Frierson said lawmakers who write the state spending plan are setting “more realistic” expectations for how much money the state might collect, based on how the economy is performing.

Last July, lawmakers predicted the state would take in about $287 million. The $273 million in collections were a shortfall.

This July, lawmakers predicted the state would take in about $280 million. The $297 million in collections exceeded expectations.

Not all tax categories are looking rosy, though.

“I’m still concerned about sales tax,” Frierson said. “It’s way, way off.”

Budget writers predicted Mississippi would collect nearly $77 million in sales tax this July, but collections were about $65 million. Last July, the state collected about $73 million in sales tax.

The Department of Revenue is in the process of hiring more people to conduct sales tax audits to ensure that businesses are submitting all the money they are supposed to submit to the state.

“Cash-intense businesses tend to, for lack of a better term, cheat. It’s easy for them to cheat,” Frierson said. “We only audit 3 percent of the sales tax paying people in the state. So, there’s a pretty good chance you can get away with it.”

Frierson said when he became revenue commissioner last July, the department had vacancies for 32 sales tax auditors. He said 10 of those jobs have been filled, and another 20 should be filled by late December.

The state is in its 2018 budget year. The 2017 budget year ended June 30, with revenue for the year falling $20 million below the total for 2016. It was the second year in a row that Mississippi tax collections decreased.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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