NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 7, 2007

Mississippi state residents are finding themselves in a financial pinch: They pay a 7 percent tax on groceries -- the highest in the country -- yet rank among the lowest-paid households in the nation, says the Associated Press.

But that may soon change:

  • A measure before the Mississippi Legislature would slice the grocery tax in half -- but it would also increase the cigarette tax from 18 cents a pack, the third-lowest in the nation, to $1 a pack, about the national average.
  • The Mississippi Democratic Party estimates that a family spending $150 a week on groceries would save $273 a year if the grocery tax were cut in half.
  • Helping to pressure change, neighboring Arkansas recently signed into law a measure that will cut the grocery tax in half on July 1, from 6 percent to 3 percent.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour opposes the bill saying he doesn't want to change the grocery tax rate while the state still faces economic uncertainty 18 months after Hurricane Katrina.  Similarly, Republican Sen. Tommy Robertson, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, opposes the legislation, arguing that the poorest families pay no grocery tax because their food stamp purchases are tax exempt.

But others disagree.  Alan Nunnelee, the Republican chairman of the Senate Public Health Committee, said reducing the grocery tax and boosting the cigarette excise tax are equally beneficial.

"Our citizens smoke and get sick because they smoke much more so than citizens of other states.  And I have to believe that in some way that's tied to the fact that we have the third lowest cigarette tax in the nation," Nunnelee said.  "But there is a corresponding issue that I think is equally a public health issue, and that's a sales tax on groceries."

Source: Emily Wagster Pettus, "Mississippi's high grocery tax debated," Houston Chronicle, March 7, 2007.


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