/Commissioners push for more highway revenue

Commissioners push for more highway revenue

Three state Transportation Commissioners agree on the need for more funding to support state highway and bridge projects. They say the trick is getting that funding from a Legislature that’s not willing to increase taxes or create new ones. While they acknowledge that Mississippi has many options to invest in its infrastructure, Commissioners Tom King & Dick Hall suggested that the fastest way to do so would be to increase the state fuel tax. Hall, a former legislator in Mississippi, is reluctant to tell the Legislature how the Transportation Department should be funded. Hall stated that he is not going to tell the Legislature how it should fund the Transportation Department. “My job is simply to tell the Legislature what’s happening. Here’s the problem. Here’s the problem we have. Tagert stated that the Mississippi Economic Council’s request for $375 million more felt a bit generous. Tagert was pragmatic and said he would accept whatever he could get. He said that the MEC campaigned for $375 million more infrastructure funding because of the amount of resources and funding required to complete the program over the long-term. King stated, “They knew it wouldn’t be all they needed, however, it was a reasonable amount and palatable one.” King added, “We’re a special fund agency. Except for bonds or other similar instruments, we don’t get any money from the Legislature. Our funds are all generated from fees, the gas tax, and reimbursements. While we cannot tell them what to fund, we can offer our ideas and collaborate with them.” Tagert suggested that annual bonding be established for projects not related to maintenance. According to the Transportation Department, maintenance of roads and bridges would cost $694 million annually, $145 million each year for five years, and $125 million for the next year. This means that the agency will need to spend an additional $839million just for maintenance. The agency estimates that $158million per year is needed to build corridors in areas of high growth and congested freight routes. Tagert suggested that a regular bond for capacity expansion might be able to provide the flexibility needed to expand infrastructure in areas where it is needed, while also maintaining existing roads. Tagert stated that if Tagert was able to act and finance infrastructure in the right way, it would not only solve the problem for him but also the problem for the next generation. Tagert stressed that awareness is crucial if infrastructure is to receive the funding the commissioners desire. He praised the efforts of Rep. Charles Busby (R-Jackson County), to lead House Transportation Committee members to examine the state of infrastructure in each transportation district. Tagert stated that it was only a few years ago that people began to question whether the need existed. “If people recognize that there is an infrastructure problem, we can start working towards a solution.” The Transportation Department is an exception in terms of funding. It is a special fund agency. The money that the Legislature appropriates each session to fund state agencies is taken from the general funds. Although the legislature may appropriate money for transportation, it does not receive the money from the general fund. The federal government provides more than half the annual funding of state highways and bridges in the United States each year. Each dollar comes with strings attached. One example is that a certain amount must go to Mississippi’s interstate system sections, and another for road safety. A special fund, the gas tax, accounts for around 30% of the agency’s total budget. An 18 cent tax is added for every gallon of gasoline that is pumped into a Mississippi car. This tax revenue is used to fund hundreds of highway and bridge projects. MDOT can’t use funds that are not already collected in revenue so it must project revenues for each fiscal. MDOT projects that 43 percent of its revenues will be from federal funds for fiscal years 2017-2018. 25 percent will come from the state’s 18-cent fuel tax. The rest, which amounts to approximately $375million, will come from sources such as car tag fees and truck & bus taxes, fees, contractor’s tax, motor carriers fees and miscellaneous state taxes. Part 1: Lobbyists view roads and bridges as a priority Part 3: Legislators search for waste in highway spending. Support this work today by making a recurring gift in celebration of the Spring Member Drive. This will allow us to continue important work such as this one. Our reporters give a human face to policy and the lives of Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of all Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think.