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Retroactive tax collection is the thing that shouldn't be in Mississippi

BALLFIELD: Southaven's Snowden Grove Park's ballfield complex hosts the Dizzy Dean World Series every year. Photo by the city of Southaven

In Mississippi when it comes to local tourism taxes, there is taxation with initial representation in the form of a referendum. Three years later when the tax expires, your representative or senator in the Mississippi Legislature can re-authorize it without any input from voters.

Mad yet? You should be. These taxes, which are often sold as being temporary and are paid by out of town visitors, are levied on restaurants and hotels.

There are 83 taxes like this statewide and four more — if approved by local voters after bills were passed in the Mississippi Legislature this session — will be collected.

In the case of Southaven, the 1 percent tax on restaurants and hotels was called "Pennies for Parks" and helped fund improvements at the city's 20 parks. The biggest improvements were at Snowden Grove Park, a giant complex of ballfields that hosts the Dizzy Dean World Series, which brings in youth baseball teams from all over the country.

In a letter of support for the tax, city officials said that improvements had to be made to the ballpark in order to secure a 10-year deal to keep the World Series until 2026. The alarming part of this revelation is that even youth sports has triggered an "edifice complex," arms race-style competition to build the biggest and best stadiums between cities. And one thought this foolishness was restricted to professional teams.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that once government gets your money, they really don't want to cut off the supply. And the claims that visitors will pay the tax mostly are true in the case of hotels, but not so much if you enjoy dining out as many do.

The letter also threatens that if the tax was cut off (it added up to about $1.8 million per year that could only be spent on parks, recreation and tourism projects) that property tax increases would be next. It's always funny how government can never do without.

The Southaven tax expired in 2014 and was re-authorized until 2017, when it expired again. However, some businesses continued to collect the tax despite its expiration, which happened in 2017 when the re-authorization bill died. Businesses could either continue to remit the collected tax to the Mississippi Department of Revenue or refund it to individual customers. Like the walkers on the "Walking Dead," the tax continued even though the law that authorized it had run out.

Horn Lake's hotel tax was in a similar position. The law that authorized the tax expired, but a few businesses continued to collect the tax.

This year, bills were passed that not only re-authorized the taxes in Southaven and Horn Lake, but allowed the city to keep the funds collected while the tax was no longer in effect. This retroactive collection is an affront to the ideals of a republic. It means that if a tax expires, it really never expires so long as a few businesses that haven't reprogrammed their computers continue to send the money to the state.

The Legislature is well within their rights to pass a bill like this, but allowing a city to collect a tax that has expired is immoral. Also, re-authorizing a tax every three years without voter input also shouldn't be part of a representative republic.

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