Republican House, Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, speaks to lawmakers at a party luncheon at the Mississippi Capitol, after presenting the House's position on their state income tax elimination legislation before reporters in Jackson, Tuesday, March 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

More Mississippians would prefer not to pay the 7% sales tax on groceries than not to pay the state income tax, according to a recent poll from Mississippi Today/Siena College.

The poll, conducted Jan. 3-8, found 68% of respondents favor suspending the grocery tax, while 24% oppose ending the grocery tax.

“The cost of food is high enough already,” Hinds County resident and poll respondent Lucinda Robinson told Mississippi Today. “We need some relief.”

Robinson said she does not believe it is right to tax necessities like food and milk.

“Eggs are so expensive that I just eat the chicken,” she said.

Graphic: Bethany Atkinson

Mississippi’s 7% tax on most retail items is one of the nation’s highest. In addition, most states either have a lower sales tax on groceries than on other items, or they just exempt groceries from being taxed altogether. Mississippi levies the full 7% on groceries.

Editor’s note: Poll methodology and crosstabs can be found at the bottom of this story. Click here to read more about our partnership with Siena College Research Institute.

Alternatively, a 55% majority of respondents support eliminating the state personal income tax, while 31% oppose eliminating it.

A reduction in the state income tax already is underway based on previously passed legislative action. And Gov. Tate Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn and others have advocated for the complete elimination in 2023 of the income tax, which currently generates about one-third of the state general fund revenue.

Graphic: Bethany Atkinson

“We need economic development. The way to attract people to move here is to eliminate the income tax,” said DeSoto County resident Brad Dickey, who was a poll participant. “It is as great way to do it.”

Dickey, who is an engineer working in Memphis, said young people move to other states that do not have an income tax such as Tennessee, instead of locating in Mississippi.

When asked about the state’s high grocery tax, Dickey said, “We have to have some money to provide services. I think there is more support to eliminate the income tax than to eliminate the grocery tax.

“I understand the grocery tax is regressive,” he said. “If they could get rid of both, that would be fine. But we have to have some money from somewhere.”

The poll did not ask respondents to consider how the elimination of a state revenue stream, whether from the income tax or from the grocery tax, would impact the services provided by the Mississippi government.

But some poll respondents told Mississippi Today they do not believe they are getting many services for their taxes anyway.

Poll respondent Ester Jones of Jones County said the state should eliminate both.

“If they are not going to support the schools with the money, they should just do away with it and allow the parents to support their children,” she said.

Jones said she believes it is unfair to force poor people to pay a tax on their groceries. She said the state of Texas does not have a sales tax on groceries and also has no income tax.

By a significant margin, Black Mississippians would rather not pay the grocery tax than the income tax. Their support for the suspension of the grocery tax is 60% to 29%, with 11% not answering or having no opinion, while their support for the elimination of the income tax is 44% in favor to 38% opposed.

White Mississippians also were more supportive of suspending the grocery tax — 74% to 19%, compared to 62% to 27% for the income tax.

Republicans support suspending the grocery tax 71% to 22%, while Democrats do 65% to 28%, and independents do 67% to 21%.

On the income tax, Democrats favor elimination by a narrow 42% to 41% margin. Two-thirds (66%) of Republicans support elimination of the income tax, while 23% of Republican oppose it. Independents support income tax elimination 56% to 30%.

“In my situation I pay a tremendous amount of property taxes. I pay a lot of incomes taxes, too,” said Sam Rosenthal of Indianola who described himself as a landlord. “I don’t want to be taxed out of business. I am overwhelmed with taxes.

“I feel like every time I turn around I am paying some type of tax whether property, income or some type of assessment,” Rosenthal said. “I would love to see the elimination of that.”

He said he also does not like the grocery tax, but added, “If had to choose I would rather pay the grocery tax. I am a realist. I know the state has to have money.”

Another poll question attempted to gauge support for a one-time rebate to taxpayers as many other states have done. That idea garnered 51% support and was opposed by 41%. Democrats supported the one-time rebate 73% to 21%, while Republicans and independents opposed them by narrower margins.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and many in the Senate leadership have advocated to use some of the current surplus the state has to provide taxpayers a one-time payment.

The Mississippi Today/Siena College Research Institute poll of 821 registered voters was conducted Jan. 8-12 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 4.6 percentage points. Siena has an ‘A’ rating in FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of pollsters.

Click here for complete methodology and crosstabs relevant to this story.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.