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Productivity doesn't always mean new laws for Mississippi Legislature

The present narrative of the Legislature's annual session that concluded Wednesday is that nothing was done.

The human mind is built to grasp the tangible fruits of labor, but when those things are intangible, like a bill that didn't become law, it's hard to quantify the result.

More liberties have been trampled because of the excuse that policymakers "have to do something." Sometimes doing nothing is the right course.

There were things the Legislature didn't accomplish that would've helped the state, such as a rewrite to the state's K-12 education funding formula or expanding the state's education savings account program to all students. Reforms to the state's antiquated liquor laws will also have to wait.

The bills that didn't become law, this session, took on an even larger importance.

There were no tax increases for gasoline and cigarettes. The "we need a gasoline tax increase to fix our roads and bridges" crowd comes back every year with the same mantra that the state's infrastructure is falling apart and that the only thing that can save it is a massive tax increase.

Increasing the gasoline tax would reach into every Mississippian's pocket and increase the cost of goods and services as businesses pass higher costs onto consumers. Again, several options were proposed, such as a referendum bill, and each time they were wisely allowed to die.

This year was their best and last chance to get a gas tax bill passed, as tax increases going into election season in 2019 will be as popular as cardboard shoes on a rainy day.

Gasoline wasn't the only tax increase that could've become law. Jacking up cigarette taxes would've forced smokers on the state's borders to cross them to buy their smokes, ultimately costing the state revenue. When advocates of a tax increase are talking about a "sweet spot" of a tax increase where it blunts the ability of tobacco companies to cut prices while reducing smoking, it's time to bring out the veto pen. Taxes should be about raising money for essential government services, not changing peoples' behavior.

There were also several bills that would added barriers to entry to the state's economy. One would've made it harder to become a certified home builder, while another would've made it more difficult to receive a real estate broker's license. The House allowed the home builder bill to die, while Gov. Phil Bryant vetoed the broker bill because it extended the amount of time required for a real estate salesperson to earn a broker license from 12 to 36 months.

The Legislature, a year after scrapping much of the state's motion picture and television production subsidies, had a chance to reverse course and give more handouts of tax dollars to Hollywood. Thankfully, the bill died.

While measuring the Legislature's worth by how much legislation it passes, a better yardstick would be how much policymakers don't allow to make it to the governor's desk. Sometimes economic liberty is better preserved by a no vote.

It can always be worse, not better. In the case of this year's session, sometimes progress is remaining in place.

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