Mississippi House debates internet sales tax for roads

WJTV File Photo

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Mississippi’s House voted on Wednesday to enforce taxation on internet sales and earmark the money for road and bridge work.

By a 79-38 vote, representatives passed House Bill 480, codifying efforts to collect taxes from Amazon.com and others that sell goods to Mississippians from outside the state.

The bill earmarks the revenue for road and bridge work, with 70 percent going to the state, 15 percent going to counties and 15 percent going to cities.

The measure moves to the Senate for more debate, where prospects are unclear. Laura Hipp, a spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, said that until Congress acts to allow states to tax internet sales, any state action is a “precursor to litigation.”

Researchers for the College Board estimated in January that Mississippi was losing between $106 million and $123 million in sales tax revenue. Transportation officials say they need at least $500 million to prevent roads from deteriorating. But many lawmakers refuse to raise fuel taxes, leaving road advocates searching for other revenue.

Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, emphasized that under current state law, consumers already are supposed to pay use taxes. However, officials have said enforcement on individual consumers is nearly impossible.

“It’s not a new tax. It’s not a new tax. It’s not a new tax,” Lamar said.

Under the latest bill, retailers would be responsible for collecting the online sales taxes. Even without the law in place, Mississippi’s Department of Revenue has proposed rules to collect the taxes, and Amazon.com voluntarily agreed earlier to start collecting taxes Wednesday.

Opponents of the bill asked House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, to label it as a new tax, meaning passage would require a 60 percent supermajority vote. Gunn declined.

“The people of Mississippi did not send a Republican supermajority to the Capitol to raise their taxes,” said Rep. Joel Bomgar, R-Madison. “If you take action that results in everybody paying more taxes, it’s a tax increase.”

Rep. Dana Criswell, R-Olive Branch, warned Republicans that supporters could face primary challenges in 2019.

“I was elected as a conservative to come here and reduce the size of government, to stop the government from reaching into your pockets and taking more and more money,” Criswell said.

Supporters, though, urged Republicans to disregard anti-tax purity.

“Those of you that have got to be consistent, who can’t practice a little hypocrisy, vote ‘no,'” said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. “Those of you who are day-to-day hypocrites wearing the cloak of conservatism, vote ‘yes.’ We need the cash.”

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