/$200 million transportation plan emerges, but work remains on the details

$200 million transportation plan emerges, but work remains on the details

Philip Gunn, the House Speaker, stated that Reeves (who preside over the Senate) said there was a deal. “We passed our bill in January…That is the bill that we will pass this Thursday.” Although Bryant, a Republican second term, has not yet issued the formal call for special session, Monday morning Reeves stated that he expected it to include the enactment of a lottery as well as diverting some use tax revenue from education programs and other programs to transportation. The use tax is the 7. percent tax on all retail products purchased outside of state. The governor said that he would like the Legislature to look at how to divide up $700 million of settlement funds from the 2010 BP oil rig blast and subsequent oil leak. This money will be used to pay for state tax revenue. Gunn stated that the House would pass the bill early Thursday. It would shift 35 percent of state use tax revenue, which Gunn considers a growing source revenue, from education to transportation. This money, estimated to amount to $115 million per year, would be distributed to cities and counties to fund infrastructure projects. For many years, Senate and House leaders have struggled to find additional funding for what is most commonly a degrading state and local infrastructure system. It has been difficult to find a viable alternative and there has not been any willingness to raise the 18.4-cent per gallon motorfuel tax. The state’s infrastructure has been a key issue and could play a significant role in the 2019 statewide elections. Reeves’s home is one of two gated neighborhoods that was revealed to have a $2 million access road. After the frontage road project was revealed earlier in summer, it became controversial and has been stopped. Reeves stated Monday that he expected that the governor’s special sessions agenda would also result in the diversion of revenue from Mississippi’s sports betting, which is currently allowed at Mississippi casinos. Also, it would involve issuing approximately $300 million in debt to repair bridges on the local and state levels. Nearly 500 county-owned bridges in the state are currently closed and many counties don’t have the funds to repair them. Reeves stated that details are still to be worked out but that there is a “general agreement” between the Senate and House leaderships on the issues raised in the special session. Reeves stated Monday morning that he believes this is a significant step towards resolving one of the most difficult issues in our country. Gunn and Reeves have both expressed opposition to the lottery. However, the lieutenant governor said he expects that it will be voted on in the special session. Gunn said that he would allow the House to vote on a lottery if there are enough votes and the support of his Republican caucus. This group holds a three fifths majority in Congress. Sixteen states, including Mississippi have no lottery. Reeves stated that the annual revenue from the lottery is approximately $80 million. This revenue, along with other smaller revenue sources such as sports betting revenue or a fee for hybrid and electric cars would generate approximately $100 million annually to support state transportation needs. Reports from the 2018 regular session indicated that the Senate wanted local governments provide “matching funding” to help draw down additional state funds for transportation. Reeves stated Monday that it is not necessary to pass legislation during the special session. Reeves stated that many of the items (proposed to the regular session), were House proposals during regular session. If not all, most. “Some of these items were included in Senate bills. The bottom line is that if all these bills pass the Legislature within the next few days …” then the Legislature will have “found a viable solution” to the state’s infrastructure problems. Gunn, he and the governor had been discussing the issue since the end of the regular session. There will still be questions about whether a $200 million increase annually is sufficient, given that some estimate an additional $400 million annually, and whether or not other agencies are able to absorb more than $100 millions per year. Senator Hob Bryan (D-Amory) said that while he had not seen the governor’s proposal, it seems from comments such as those by Gunn and Reeves that it would not solve the transportation problem but create new problems by taking money away from education and other essential services. Bryan stated that the proposals “wouldn’t fix the highways but..might push it past next year’s election.” He also said that if the enactment in 2016 of the tax cut which would take $415 million from state revenue over a ten year period, there would still be enough money to address transportation problems. Gunn and Reeves said state revenue is growing enough to absorb the tax cuts and to divert additional money from education and other sources to transportation.