June 26, 2018 10:39:03 AM
The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that struck down a restriction on internet sales tax could provide a desperately needed financial shot in the arm for the state, whose orgy of tax cuts in recent years has left state agencies reeling and road/bridge infrastructure unaddressed in any meaningful way.
State revenue commissioner Herb Frierson estimated that allowing online retailers to collect the state's 7-percent sales tax will produce an additional $50 million to $75 million annually. Frierson said those collections will begin July 1.
While there is no question that the additional revenue is welcomed, it hardly puts the state on sound financial footing. Since 2012, when Republicans gained control of both chambers of the legislature and the Governor's office, lawmakers have pushed through more than $700 million in tax cuts -- including a record $280 million corporate tax cut passed two years ago,
The question now becomes what the state will do with this infusion of cash. Many argue that the revenue should be earmarked for road and bridge infrastructure repairs. In 2014, the Mississippi Economic Council issued a report that said the state would need to spend $3.75 billion to restore the state's road/bridge infrastructure to good working order.
To set aside the money for that purpose, Gov. Phil Bryant would have to call a special session of the legislature, but it is unclear whether he'll make that move. Bryant's position has always been to call a special session only if it is clear that the legislature can agree on legislation. Last year, when the prospects of devoting internet sales tax were being discussed, the House favored ear-marking the revenue for roads and bridges, but the Senate balked.
There is little doubt that the revenue, no matter where it is directed, is much needed. Across-the-board cuts to state agencies are jeopardizing the services the agencies provide and our citizens are entitled to.
But on another front, the Supreme Court's decision provides a benefit that need not be debated.
By closing the loophole that created a competitive advantage for online retailers over the state's brick-and-mortar businesses, the ruling evens the playing field. That's a win for our local retailers, who no longer face a 7-percent price deficit on the goods and services they provide.
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