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Cash scramble on in Mississippi

By Staff
Lauderdale County used to stage an event called a calf scramble. Part of this annual agricultural show featured area youths trying to capture a greased pig set loose within the confines of Meridian High's Ray Stadium. They could use only their hands and the lucky winner took the pig back to the farm, raised it and eventually sold it.
In Mississippi today, something similar seems to be going on as Gov. Ronnie Musgrove scrambles for cash to run state government. He is pursuing the functional equivalent of a greased pig in the form of tax increases on casinos and proceeds from the state's $4 billion tobacco settlement. Getting his arms around either could prove to be difficult.
Neither proposal is being met with widespread acceptance, but both are likely to become hot topics in the 2002 session of the Mississippi Legislature.
First, new taxes on casinos. While the Choctaw Indians' casino operations in East Mississippi pay no sales taxes to the state, casinos elsewhere do. Sales taxes go into the state's general fund. Casinos also pay taxes to local units of government where they are located.
Raising sales taxes on casinos at this point could prove problematic and the casino lobby is lining up strongly against it.
Second, the tobacco money  proceeds plus interest from the 1997 settlement with tobacco companies. The state has collected about $650 million so far and expects to collect about $210 million this year.
Attorney General Mike Moore has jealously guarded this huge pot of money against greedy hands that could have the entire amount spent in the blink of an eye.
Now a state workers union is backing Musgrove's plan to reshuffle this tobacco money trust fund because the move might result in state employee pay raises. State employees, and junior college and university workers have not received a pay raise in three years.
Moore has said he was not consulted before the governor went public with his plan.
Musgrove says his budget shuffling plan could open the way for state employee pay raises and improved insurance. He has not come forward with a proposed a price tag.
Moore is right to approach this proposal with a certain degree of caution.

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