Legislation to collect sales taxes on internet purchases cleared the Mississippi House on Monday after a tug-of-war between House Republican leadership and grassroots conservative advocacy groups. The bill claims the need for the tax increase is to fund improvements to deficient roads and bridges. However, data to support the claims of deficient conditions has been sparse.
House Bill 480 originally passed the House on Wednesday February 1 by a vote of 79-38 but was held for more debate by a “motion to reconsider”. Grassroots advocacy groups from around the state quickly organized a call-to-action asking voters to contact lawmakers to defeat any attempts to table the motion, hoping to force tax-and-spend Republicans into the uncomfortable position of having to publicly defend their reasons for supporting the tax increase. As a result, the following day, a “motion to table” the hold on the bill was brought up for a vote in the house but was defeated 65-46.
The rest of the day and throughout the weekend, Republican leaders in the House worked to regain the votes they had lost by privately pressuring representatives into switching their votes on the procedural motion, keeping further public debate in the House about the tax increase to a minimum.
On Monday, House members voted 66-49 to remove the hold and send the bill to the Senate.
A statement was posted to one of the grassroots organizations, United Conservatives, Facebook page questioning why the Mississippi Republican Party had not taken a public stance against the tax, referring to the state GOP as “AWOL” for not aggressively supporting the party platform.
The GOP platform on internet taxation says:
“We will consistently support internet policies that allow people and private enterprise to thrive, without providing new and expanded government powers to tax and regulate so that the internet does not become the vehicle for a dramatic expansion of government power.”
An additional post by United Conservatives on Monday afternoon following the vote to forward the tax increase to the senate suggested party leaders stood down to appease lobbyists and corporate interests that financially support the Republican Party.
According to the statement, Mississippians “already pay enough in taxes to fund roads and bridges.”
“The problem is legislators who are wasting money on non-essential pet projects. The other problem is the lobbyist of business interest in MS who want more state contracts for the companies of their friends.”
The Mississippi Economic Council has been a driving force behind the effort to increase taxes to fund work on what they claim are “some of the worst roads in America.”
MEC launched a website in January to promote a narrative of catastrophic deterioration of roadways in Mississippi (www.msroadmatters.com). The website makes several claims, but is short on supporting data that connects those claims to deficient road conditions. The website also lists a group of “Partners” in the effort, including the Mississippi Asphalt Pavement Association, Mississippi Associated Builders & Contractors, Mississippi Bankers Association, Mississippi Concrete Industries Association, Mississippi Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Stores Association, and the Mississippi Road Builders Association.