JACKSON, Miss. (MISSISSIPPI TODAY) – A bill to allow Jackson to raise its citywide sales tax by 1 cent for water and sewer system repairs is dead in the final days of the 2021 legislative session.
A historic winter storm in mid-February froze water plant equipment and burst many pipes in the capital city, leaving at least 40,000 residents — mostly Black — without water for nearly three weeks. City leaders, who have neglected funding the system for decades, say they need major investment from the state and federal government to repair the system, which is estimated to cost at least $1 billion.
The Jackson City Council attempted to take matters into its own hands, passing a proposal in early March to raise the city’s sales tax by 1 cent. That new revenue — an estimated $14 million per year — would be used to back large bonds for repairing and replacing the city’s water and sewer system. But state law requires approval from lawmakers before the local sales tax increase could be placed on a citywide ballot. State Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson, filed a bill on behalf of the city to acquire legislative sign-off on the 1-cent proposal.
That bill will die without committee consideration, House Local and Private Chairman Manly Barton, R-Moss Point, told Mississippi Today — a blow to the capital city’s main legislative ask as it struggles to afford water system repairs.
Barton said killing the bill is based on precedent — with the 2013 exception of allowing a previous 1-cent sales tax increase for Jackson — of not allowing cities to add on to the state’s sales tax.
“We have been very hesitant to do general sales tax increases for other cities. In fact, we turn them down every year,” Barton said. “We had four or five requests this year. A lot of times the bills don’t even get filed. We work with them on local food-and-beverage, hotel-motel taxes, but there’s just no appetite to do general sales taxes. We’ve been pretty consistent … Of course there was the one for Jackson some years ago — there were conditions set on that and a committee — but we have otherwise been pretty consistent.”
Barton continued: “I think the 1-cent tax would generate about $14 million for Jackson, but it’s a really big hole they’re trying to fill with infrastructure. What I did say is I would do everything I could to help find revenue somewhere else if we possibly can.”
City leaders all along have said the intended purpose of that $14 million a year in new revenue would be to back large bonds, possibly giving the city hundreds of millions they could use in the short-term for infrastructure upgrades.