February 1, 2017 – Legislation that would create a lottery in Mississippi failed to make it through the committee process in the Mississippi Senate. However, under the leadership of Speaker Philip Gunn (R – Clinton) a measure to do so, in the strangest way imaginable, has passed in the House and now comes before the full body for a vote.
Before we get to why a lottery is horrible policy, one should recall that Mississippi was recently named the most corrupt state in the nation.
HB 804 as introduced by Rep. Mark Baker (R – Brandon) dealt with determining the mental competency of criminal defendants ability to stand trial. However, during the committee process this week, the bill was overhauled to create a state lottery. When asked why the drastic change to the bill, Rep. Baker responded, “Because, I wanted to keep alive the possibility of a lottery.”
This move occurred despite the fact that Speaker Gunn is allegedly on record as actively opposing the possibility of a lottery. But if he cannot communicate with or control his leadership team, then his so-called opposition is irrelevant.
The research on the adverse effects of state lotteries on state economies is staggering. But it is even worse for the poor. The disproportionate effect of the lottery on lower income individuals is well-documented. For lawmakers representing a state like Mississippi, which ranks last among all states in the overall poverty rate, that fact alone should be a sufficient reason to oppose the lottery.
But its negative impact on the poor is only one small part of the problem.
At a fundamental level, any new taxation — even when defined as a “voluntary” tax — removes money from the productive (private) sector of the economy and into the unproductive (government) sector. With the implementation of new taxation, many consumer goods purchases that would have facilitated economic growth in Mississippi will not occur. The financial capital firms could have otherwise attained to promote investment, production, and innovation is instead being siphoned off for the government to squander.
And yet the thirst of lawmakers to steal more revenue from Mississippi taxpayers clouds their judgment to the best approach for reviving the state’s stagnant economy. As long as they have more funds to delve out to special interest, big businesses, and pet projects back to their home district, lawmakers are satisfied to waste our money, raise our taxes, and then beg for more.
Despite the shenanigans in the House, Speaker Gunn, if he is truly against a lottery, still has an opportunity to right a wrong. He can at least offset most of the damaging impacts of a lottery by reducing taxes on Mississippians and putting money back into our local economies.
The answer is simple. Demand that House leadership amend HB804 when it comes before the House for a full vote. The amendment should include the language of SB2594 — The 2017 Lottery Contingency Act authored by Sen. Chris McDaniel.
The measure, which was killed in the Senate by Lt. Governor Reeves, demands that for every dollar in net revenue the lottery generates that a corresponding amount would be offset by a cut in property taxes. Put simply, if the lottery created $100 million in revenue, then $100 million in property tax cuts would be allowed back to the people of Mississippi. Such an approach would make the bill revenue neutral while reducing property taxes across the state.
Obviously, the best approach would be to defeat the bill. But if that is not possible, amending the bill would create a way to offset the negative economic impact by putting millions back in the pockets of Mississippians and making capital available to be spent in local communities. The amendment would also guarantee that we would not continue to grow the size of government.
Whether Speaker Gunn will fight to do the right thing or not is still left to be seen, but as conservatives, we should do our best to change his mind.
Join us in placing calls and sending emails asking him to kill the bill. If not, please request that he amend the bill, adding language that would make it revenue neutral, offsetting it with a property tax cut.
We must hold our elected officials accountable.
Reach Speaker Gunn by calling 601-359-3300 or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also send an email to all House members by using the following address: email@example.com.
To telephone your House member, please call 601-349-3770.