/Legislators look for waste in highway spending

Legislators look for waste in highway spending

The state’s legislators spent the summer traveling across the state looking at bridge and highway needs. They want to ensure that highway repairs are not delayed by wasteful spending. “I was elected to represent the people of DeSoto County. I had to see the needs. “The second is how we got here,” stated Rep. Dana Criswell of DeSoto County. Criswell stated, “The third is making sure that (the Transportation Department is) spending our money wisely.” It’s not an accusation. I am simply defending my responsibility as a representative. You are spending taxpayer money. We need to ensure that you’re using taxpayer money wisely.” Mississippi Today contacted several state representatives who expressed concern over the Transportation Department’s wastefulness with state funds. These concerns were raised despite the downsizing of the agency, which saw 330 fewer vehicles in its fleet and 44 layoffs from the Right of Way Division. Many believed that the first way to provide additional funding was to purge wasteful spending. Rep. Cedric Bunett, D-Tunica said, “I would view it as someone who runs a business.” “If you have to cut costs in order to pay for another thing. Burnett stated, “I would do that.” “The roads are essential to the economy. “We may have to increase fees, taxes or gas but it must be done.” These trips were led by Rep. Charles Busby (R-Jackson County), chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Busby brought members of the House Transportation Committee along with officials from highway departments to examine highway and bridge issues. Two days were spent visiting each state highway commission district. Mississippi Today asked the Department of Transportation not to accompany them on these trips. Busby stated that he thought it would be beneficial for the transportation committee at least to have the knowledge to help them make informed decisions when considering something, such as the increasing pressure for infrastructure spending. Mississippi Today was contacted by a number of committee members who expressed concerns over the difficulties in balancing infrastructure’s economic importance and their unwillingness to support a new tax, or an increase in tax to fund transportation funding. The Transportation Department had to shift from building new highways and maintaining existing highway infrastructure to meet rising construction costs. “One of the most important things is that we have stopped building so many roads,” Rep. Robert Foster of DeSoto said. “But now, I think, we have to shift our efforts from adding new capacity to a large portion of our budget going towards maintaining what we already have.” Foster added. “The Transportation Department was forced to do this.” Foster stated that their budget has not grown and that they have been forced to spend a portion of their budget on maintenance because all the roads and bridges are in dire need of being replaced, updated and maintained. “That’s good. It’s a natural thing. What are the areas where we can find weaknesses? “Where is the money being used to address the greatest need?” Others, such as Rep. Oscar Denton (D-Warren County), suggested that the money needed to pay for state roads and bridges may not exist even after eliminating some state agency spending. Denton stated that the public should know that their taxes pay for roads and bridges. That’s what keeps the state going. The state will not get its money from any other sources than taxes and fees. “I think the public should recognize that.” Busby pointed out that special legislative committees that examine state spending have looked at transportation department spending. “I think they are doing a good job. There is always room for improvement in any organization,” he stated. I don’t see any other way than to transfer revenue from another source or create new revenue. While I believe we’ll find efficiencies, I don’t think that we will find the resources we need.” Even Democrats facing a Republican supermajority in Congress found reason for optimism during the trips. Rep. John Faulkner (D-Holly Springs), said that going on these trips made a huge difference. That day, we began to have dialogue. Republicans and Democrats have been talking. It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, Republican, Democrat or not, if the bridge falls it doesn’t make a difference. Faulkner stated that this dialogue made me hopeful that when we meet next session, we’ll be able take a look at that day and have an honest conversation to find the money needed to pay for it. Part 1: Lobbyists view roads and bridges as a priority Part 2: Commissioners mention the need for more highway revenue. To support this work, you can make recurring donations today to celebrate our Spring Member Drive. Our reporters give a human face to policy and the lives of Mississippians by listening more closely to them. 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.