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From Your Capitol - Week of March 13
The deadline to consider revenue and appropriations bills that originated in the Senate occurred this week. Among other things, these bills detail how much money will be appropriated to a number of different state boards and departments.
This week I've received several phone calls and emails about the legality of Amazon collecting "sales tax". Many citizens are questioning how Amazon is collecting a tax that was not approved by the legislature. This is a legitimate question that I hope to answer.
As many of you know, HB 480 the internet sales tax bill, passed the House but was rightfully killed by Lt. Gov. Reeves.
In a statement recorded by Mississippi Today Reeves said,
“Frankly, we believe the bill is unconstitutional, I have yet to hear from one lawyer who thinks otherwise, including many of the House members who voted for this bill."
So how can Amazon collect a tax that was not approved by the legislature?
During the time the legislature was debating the "internet sales tax" the Mississippi Department of Revenue was negotiating with Amazon to collect the "use tax" that has been a part of Mississippi law for over five decades. A "use tax," is a tax due on the purchase of property acquired "for use, storage or consumption within this State on which Sales or Use Tax has not been paid to another state...," according to the Mississippi Department of Revenue (DOR).
The tax is not on the business from which you purchased the item. The tax is assessed on the item itself, and you as the purchaser owe the tax. The Department of Revenue has then negotiated with Amazon to collect a use tax on items you purchase. Amazon is essentially doing this for you.
But this creates many questions that continue to be unanswered, such as;
What is the negotiated deal DOR has made with Amazon? The Mississippi Department of Revenue has refused to release details of the agreement they entered into on behalf of the citizens of this state?
Has the state agency obligated taxpayers to any agreement?
Did DOR agree to pursue regulations that would require other companies collect the use tax?
Does the agreement at Amazon’s request give Amazon a competitive advantage over competitors?
Did DOR agree to give Amazon some kind of benefit for voluntarily coming forward and agreeing to collect use taxes for DOR? If so, what are the details of that contract between a state agency and a collection company?
Did DOR agree to shield third-party sellers on Amazon’s platform from collecting use tax?
Mike Hurst, director of Mississippi Justice Institute said, “Mississippi law requires government transparency and accountability. As taxpayers, the public should be allowed to know the details of our state agencies’ agreements and contracts with outside entities – in this case a billion dollar corporation collecting taxes on behalf of the state. These details are particularly important because they involve an issue with current active legislative debate and recently completed but not yet enacted rulemaking by the Department of Revenue. The state is making policy on this issue without revealing public information which could inform the citizens,”
This agreement between the State of Mississippi and Amazon affects every citizens of this state but no representative of the people has access to the agreement. No citizen has any idea how to file their "use tax" at the end of the year or how much Amazon has remitted to the State on their behalf. If Amazon does not remit the full 7% they collect on a citizens behalf, does the citizen owe the difference?
There is little doubt that the Mississippi Department of Revenue is a government agency out-of-control. They believe they have the authority to act outside of the legislature, outside of the law and with total disregard for the people of this state.
What can you do?
Do not be silenced, complain, email, make noise! Those in control hope that with time you will move on to something else, that you will forget the injustice and disregard they exhibit for the people of this state. They hope that fear of retribution by the tax collector is enough to shut you up!
The Commissioner of Revenue is appointed by the Governor, let Governor Bryant know that at the very least you expect him to represent your interest by demanding the Department of Revenue release the agreement made on your behalf. Also, demand that your state representative and state senator stand up for you and join Gov. Bryant in that demand.
Do not let anyone silence you! As a citizen of this state you have a right to know what your government is doing.
Use this link to Ask Gov. Bryant to Block Amazon Tax provided by American's for Prosperity.
County Governments Give Away Millions of Dollars
There are many in the Mississippi legislature upset with my voting record. I have consistently voted against giving local government permission to give away taxpayer's money to private companies and charities. During the 2017 legislative session counties and cities across the state have asked for permission from the legislature to give away over $11 million.
It is my belief that government should not tax the people and then redistribute that money to companies and charities of their choosing. Government does not exist to "do good" or to support charities. Often times further investigation reveals that local politicians are using the taxpayer's money as a means to reward friends or to buy votes to keep themselves in office. I have consistently voted against this practice. Because of my voting record against this, I have been chastised, threatened, and condemned as someone who is not a "team player".
One truth has emerged, I am not playing the same game some other politicians are playing nor am I on the same team. I took an oath to represent the interest of the people and to uphold the law, so the only "team" I'm on is that of the people of District 6 and Mississippi.
Last week the Federal Highway Commission closed 57 bridges throughout the state because of poor structural condition. But every one of the bridges closed was a county owned and maintained bridge, so while the county supervisors are spreading taxpayer money around to charities they are allowing bridges to crumble. This is shameful and extreme mismanagement of the people's money. I will not support this practice with my vote as a legislator.
I'd like to add, Desoto County is not one of these counties. Our county supervisors have done an excellent job of maintaining our roads and bridges without raising taxes and they don't give away our money.
Visiting Your Capitol
This week I had two special visitors on Monday and Tuesday. Julie, my wife, and Ella our daughter visited me at the capitol.
But, I think they enjoyed their time at Lemuria Book Store more than they did at the capitol.
Thank you to the people of Mississippi and Olive Branch for giving me an opportunity to serve them and to make a difference in our state.