Brad Plumer and Noam Scheiber have a good article about the loathsome GOP corporate lackey Haley Barbour, the kind of “small government” Republican who ensures that any budget deal contains plenty of tobacco subsidies. And the kind of “anti-tax” Republican who, given an ultra-regressive 7% grocery tax in the second-poorest state in the country, well:
If the tobacco companies were hoping all this would pay dividends for them in Mississippi, they cannot be disappointed. In 2006, the state legislature passed a so-called “tax swap” bill. Supported by Amy Tuck, the lieutenant governor and, until then, a faithful Barbour ally, the measure would have raised the state’s tobacco tax, one of the country’s lowest, and lowered its ultra-regressive grocery tax. Barbour twice vetoed the plan and twisted enough Republican arms to sustain it–despite the fact that some 70 percent of Mississippians supported the legislation. “The tobacco companies, we barely even saw them,” says Steve Holland, chairman of the House public health committee. “They didn’t have to show up because they had the big boy fighting for them.” To this day, few in the GOP have dared cross Barbour on the matter. Recently, lobbyists from the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program asked several Republicans to pledge to raise the tobacco tax. They encountered near-universal resistance. “A lot of Republicans are saying, Do you know what you’re doing? If I sign this thing, then Haley will come and dump more money into my opponent’s campaign,'” says Roy Mitchell, the program’s director.
This year, legislators tried again, introducing two more bills that would have halved the state’s grocery tax and raised the cigarette tax by $1. Barbour didn’t even lift his veto pen this time around–the bills died at the hands of Senate finance committee chairman Tommy Robertson. Oddly, Robertson had been a vocal advocate of previous tax-swap bills. Earlier this year, however, he and two other Republican legislators–who, in their day jobs, are lawyers–had received a $1.2 million contract from the Mississippi Development Authority, which is overseen by the governor, to help homeowners finalize their Katrina grants. The contract raised more than a few eyebrows. (In an interview, Robertson said the contract–which was cleared by the state ethics commission on a party-line vote–had “absolutely nothing” to do with his stance on the tax swap.)
There’s also some good stuff about Barbour’s contributions to the national GOP’s efforts to bring the Mississippi fiscal and cultural system to the rest of the country. Depressing.