March 13, 2019 10:46:45 AM
A new bill that would create an additional 1-percent sales tax at restaurants in Columbus seems to be in limbo in legislative committees.
House Bill 1682, which specifically delegates the tax to be used for operations and maintenance at the Sen. Terry Brown Amphitheater, was introduced to Local and Private committees in both the Mississippi Senate and House of Representatives, but legislators are uncertain whether it will pass either of them.
"We're taking it up in committee (Wednesday) morning," said Sen. Gary Jackson (R-French Camp), who chairs the Senate's Local and Private Committee. "That's all I can tell you."
But Rep. Gary Chism (R-Columbus), a member of the House Local and Private Committee, said chairmen of both committees said they would not bring the bill out of committee, which would mean the bill is dead.
"It's not coming out," Chism said.
If passed, the tax would be on top of a 2-percent sales tax at businesses in Columbus with annual food and beverage revenue of at least $100,000. The 2-percent bill, which will fund recreation, tourism and economic development across Lowndes County, has been signed into law and took effect March 1.
Though HB 1682 includes a referendum where 60 percent of voters would need to approve the 1-percent additional sales tax for it to take effect, Chism said there's been resistance to adding to the 2-percent tax already active.
"I've had a lot of people calling me complaining about adding another percent onto the restaurant tax," he said. "They think we shouldn't be doing that, even though the people would vote on it. It's just a little bit too much."
Rep. Kabir Karriem (D-Columbus) said he's not sure what the committee will decide to do with the bill.
"We'll wait for its arrival over to the House," he said. "It's a piece of legislation I strongly support. I think it's needed and possibly could free up some money for other needed improvements for the city. I'll do all I can to support the Legislature."
Starkville sales tax bill
A similar bill for a 1-percent tax in Starkville is moving through the state Legislature after easily passing the House last week.
Representatives approved House Bill 1565, which authorizes a new 1-percent tax on Starkville's restaurants and hotels/motels on a 100-5 vote last week. The bill was transferred to the Senate on Tuesday.
The city requested the bill from the Legislature to generate funds to "construct, finance, operate, equip, lease and maintain new sports tournament and recreational facilities and improve existing sports and recreational facilities."
Starkville is considering the construction of a new tournament-ready park at Cornerstone Park on Highway 25, which could cost more than $20 million, depending on what options the city wants to build it with. The funds can be used to support that effort, as well as improving the city's current parks.
If approved, the new tax would add an additional 1 percent to the city's existing 2-percent tax on restaurants and hotels/motels.
Rep. Rob Roberson (R-Starkville), one of the bill's authors, said it will now go to the Senate's Local and Private Committee.
Jackson, who said he thinks the tax for the support of Starkville's park system is a "great idea," doesn't anticipate much difficulty the rest of the way for the bill, since it comes with a referendum.
"I think it'll all get through fairly easily, as long as there's a front-end referendum on it," Jackson said.
HB 1565 includes a provision for the city to set a referendum on the new tax after the bill's passage. The tax will need 60 percent voter approval to pass the referendum.
"I think the vast majority of people are going to support it," Roberson said. "The truth of the matter is, if we can't get that supermajority of people to make it, we may not need to do it."
Sen. Angela Turner-Ford said she's also not expecting any difficulty for the bill in the Senate.
"I have not heard of anyone who does not support it" she said. "I think it's always positive when a community wants to invest in its parks and have opportunities for children and residents to enjoy recreation."
Mayor Lynn Spruill said she's thankful for the support the bill received in the House and anticipates similar success in the Senate.
Should it pass, as expected, she said she hopes to set an election "long before" November's general election -- with an eye for a vote in the summer, if possible.
"As soon as the Senate passes it and we get the governor's signature, we're going to want to establish a timeline," Spruill said. "We will want lots of opportunities for public education. We want to talk to lots of different groups and get people excited about it."
Roberson said the bill includes a 10-year repealer, which means Starkville will have to request its renewal in 10 years. That's similar to the current 2-percent tax, which was originally approved with a 10-year renewal date, then changed to three years, and most recently approved by the Legislature with a four-year renewal window.
District 38 Rep. Cheikh Taylor (D-Starkville), who co-authored the bill with Roberson, said he thinks the tax would be "money well spent." However, Taylor said he's gotten concerns from citizens that the new tax, if approved, would be added to property taxes.
"It has been construed as a tax on property, but that's not the case," Taylor said. "I've gotten emails from citizens concerned about that. But this is not an ad valorem tax."
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