Legislators discuss issues with public

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, March 4, 2008

NATCHEZ — Four legislators announced their support for the occupancy tax at a legislative breakfast Monday morning.

Rep. Robert Johnson, Rep. Sam Mims, Sen. Bob Dearing and Sen. Kelvin Butler all represent at least a portion of Adams County.

Each legislator said they would support the occupancy tax, an increase to $2 per hotel room that was recently approved by the Natchez Board of Aldermen. The money made by this tax will be used toward marketing the city. The House and Senate now must approve this piece of legislation.

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Johnson said he is responsible for supporting whatever the city wants.

“If that’s what the city wants, I’ll support it,” Johnson said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Dearing said it is key to his support that the money will be used for marketing.

Mims said he supports it because the tax won’t affect citizens of Natchez and Adams County.

Legislators also gave updates on the state budget, and answered questions on other hot-button issues.

All four legislators warned of a tight fiscal year.

“We’re in a very down year with big bills to pay,” Johnson said.

But possible solutions, he said, could be raising cigarette and alcohol taxes.

Legislators were split on the issue of voter identification.

Dearing said it is an issue that has before the Senate for six or seven consecutive years and each time he voted for it.

A criticism of voter identification is that the elderly may not have the proper identification, but Dearing said the bill allows for many options, from a driver’s license or social security card to a copy of a utility bill in that person’s name.

“If you don’t have all that, then you can have an affidavit vote,” he said.

Mims is in support of the bill but also in favor of taking it a step further and requiring the identification to be photo only.

Both Butler and Johnson were against voter identification.

Legislators also discussed a proposed tax hike by Entergy — an electric company that supplies much of the state. The rate increase would fund a nuclear power plant they hope to build at Grand Gulf.

The bill has passed in the Senate and both Butler and Dearing voted for it. Mims also supports it.

Butler said while he is in support of raising rates to pay for a plant that does not yet exist, he said if something goes wrong in its construction, citizens should be compensated.

“What if it goes belly up?” Butler asked. “I think citizens should get their money back.”

Dearing said the reason he voted for it is because he feels it is better to pay now to help start its construction, instead of waiting until it is constructed, which would cost citizens more money.

Johnson said an investment needs to be made and he will support the bill.

“I think it’s a step forward,” Johnson said. “We need to step out and take bold moves.”