- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 21, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A Mississippi House leader reversed course Tuesday and blocked a bill that could have led to higher gasoline and cigarette taxes.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, killed House Bill 1733 by choosing not to bring it up for a vote in the full House. The move came a day after his committee passed the bill without having details about it.

The bill had vague provisions that could have been updated later to include tax increases for gasoline or cigarettes. Smith would not say what prompted him to reverse course and kill the bill.

Smith brought the House a separate bill Tuesday with $50 million in bonds to pay for local roads and bridges. House Bill 1732 passed by a wide margin but was held for more debate.

The House also passed House Bill 1734 , which included $45 million in bonds for Ingalls Shipbuilding and bonds for universities and community colleges. The state had previously pledged three stages of bond money for Ingalls, one of the largest private employers in the state. This would be the third stage. The bill was also held for more debate.

Legislators are just beyond the midpoint of their 90-day session, and Wednesday is the deadline for the House and Senate to pass the first version of budget and revenue bills.

It’s common for legislators at mid-session to pass bills that can be significantly changed later. However, Ways and Means took the unusual step of passing House Bill 1733 without members seeing details of it. The bill was not immediately on the legislative website for the public to see, but was posted later.

The Mississippi Economic Council, the state chamber of commerce, has pushed for an additional $375 million a year for highways and bridges, saying most money should come from higher fuel taxes or taxes on vehicle licenses. That proposal in part came from MEC-commissioned studies by the University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State University and private consultants.

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton said last week that many representatives want more details about conditions of highways and bridges before voting on funding.

Dozens of supporters of Americans For Prosperity, a group that advocates free markets and small government, appeared Tuesday at the Capitol. State director Russ Latino said the Department of Transportation needs to reduce spending in other areas to focus on repairing highways and bridges.

“Mississippians have been taxed enough,” Latino said to cheers from the group, including several Republican lawmakers.


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

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