Emily Wagster Pettus, AP, March 8, 2017
Mississippi universities that refuse to fly the Confederate-themed state flag could lose proposed tax breaks, the latest twist in a long battle over a symbol critics see as racist.
All eight of Mississippi’s public universities have stopped flying the flag because it prominently features the Confederate battle emblem, and that has angered supporters of the banner.
The state House voted 57-56 Wednesday to withhold proposed tax exemptions to public universities that refuse to fly the flag. However, a top lawmaker — House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus — said the flag provision is likely to disappear from the final version of the bill in the next few weeks. Senate Bill 2509 would provide tax exemptions for Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi, but it could be expanded to add other schools.
Republican Rep. William Shirley of Quitman wrote the flag amendment and said universities should fly the state symbol, whatever it is, if they take state money.
“It has nothing to do with the current design at all,” said Shirley, who attended a rally at the Capitol in 2016 to support the current flag.
Democratic Rep. Chris Bell of Jackson said forcing universities to fly the flag will hurt academic and athletic recruiting.
“Let’s stop hindering the future of Mississippi,” Bell told House colleagues. “This takes us back. I ask that you not take us back.”