/Good roads We want them, but how do we pay for them

Good roads We want them, but how do we pay for them

With the 2017 session of the Legislature starting Jan. 3, the question is: What state appetite does it have for infrastructure repair and construction? And how can this be funded? “I don’t believe we found any smoking gun. Charles Busby (R-Pascagoula) said that he doesn’t believe we found high levels of inefficiency. “I believe we can gain some efficiency out of there but I don’t think that it’s going be enough to solve our problem.” Only one plan was announced in advance of the new legislative session. Senators Angela Turner (D-West Point), Hob Bryan (D-Amory), David Blount (D-Jackson), and Sollie Norwood (D-Hinds) proposed a plan that would raise $416million annually. This would involve repealing the franchise tax cut last spring and redirecting that money towards highway and bridge repairs. Bryan stated to Mississippi Today that without general fund revenue, we wouldn’t be able maintain roads and bridges. “Generally speaking, gasoline tax has been the way the highway department has been paid, but that is no feasible way to finance roads in the future.” Turner states, “It’s irresponsible of us to let this law remain on the books. Busby stated that the state Republicans have been planning for infrastructure funding and allowed this tax cut to go into effect years later. Busby stated that he plans to draft five funding bills, so that there are bills with different funding mechanisms we can jump on to find the best. “We have had small discussions with both the Speaker (of the House) and the Transportation Committee. Busby stated that he believes the jury is still out. “We must come up with the right plan that includes the right amount of accountability. That would give us a chance of getting something passed.” Polling shows that a majority of Americans support spending tax money on public transportation. A post-election poll showed that the majority of Trump supporters supported tax dollars being used for public transportation. This poll was done for the American Public Transportation Association. It shows that 69 percent of respondents nationally felt that the public transportation infrastructure is in serious crisis. 63 percent of Trump voters feel the same. Busby stated, “I think these numbers are probably quite accurate in Mississippi.” “I believe the overwhelming majority of Mississippians agree that we must do something about our infrastructure. I believe the majority of my constituents think we should do something to fix our roads, bridges, and other infrastructure issues.” He places infrastructure improvement right below public education funding. He also said that the possibility of additional funding for the state infrastructure system might not be in the best interests of political expediency. Busby stated that while the majority of legislators believe we should do something about our infrastructure, they are mighty, mighty worried about the effect of a tax hike on their political careers. They think it is right to do it, but they don’t believe it’s politically wise. As it stands now, infrastructure funding for the state’s roads, bridges, and multimodal systems is paid for with a mix of national, municipal, state, and county monies. The Mississippi Department of Transportation is not like other state agencies. It does not receive direct appropriations of the general fund. Instead, the Legislature appropriates a portion of the incoming revenue, such as the state gasoline tax. This money is used to fund a lot of the department’s work. The fiscal year 2016 projection showed that the revenue of the department was $975 million. This includes federal funds, state fuel tax, and various fees, reimbursements, and taxes. Mississippi Today was informed by Commissioner Mike Tagert from the Northern District that he doesn’t believe that his department’s funding problems can be solved through just one source. Tagert stated that the Mississippi Economic Council’s push for an additional $375million to the $975 million in funding last spring felt a bit too generous for the department’s responsibilities. Tagert was pragmatic and said he would accept whatever he could get. He stated that the MEC campaigned for $375 million more infrastructure funding because of the amount of money and resources required to complete the program over the long-term. They knew it wouldn’t be enough, but it was reasonable and acceptable. Tagert stated that it was only a few years ago that people began to wonder if the need existed. “If people recognize that there is a problem, then we can start working towards a solution.” To support this work, you can make a regular donation to our Spring Member Drive. This will allow us to continue important work such as this one. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday 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.