/Reeves remains silent on roads as House rushes funding bills to Senate

Reeves remains silent on roads as House rushes funding bills to Senate

Thursday’s House vote was a success. The bills were authored by Speaker Philip Gunn. He has repeatedly stated that funding for road and bridge construction will be a priority in this session. Gunn (R-Clinton) and Reeves, R-Clinton, were at odds over a package of infrastructure funding last session. The fact that the House was able to get to work quickly during the normally sleepy first week in the new legislative session is a sign Gunn is determined make roads his priority issue, and force Reeves to do the same. The Senate has now assigned the following committee assignments to the bills: House Bill 357 authorizes the sale bonds to pay municipalities for infrastructure repairs. House Bill 354 will direct any excess revenues above the 98 percent as part of the budget proposal to be distributed to the state transportation department, counties, and cities. House Bill 359 would place a moratorium upon any new road construction, if the right-of-ways are not yet acquired. Later, the bill was amended to include a loophole for economic development projects. Some House members felt that passing the bills was futile as they would almost certainly be dead on arrival once they got to Reeves’ desk. During debate on the moratorium bill, Rep. Jarvis Dortch (D-Raymond) asked, “Are you passing something just so that we pick a fight avec the lieutenant governor?” Reeves spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the leanings of the lieutenant governor. In an email statement to Mississippi Today, Laura Hipp stated that the Senate would review the House’s proposals and work for three months to come up with a solution to support infrastructure maintenance. The Mississippi Economic Council’s Capitol Day was the venue for Thursday’s legislative business. This annual event brings together state leaders and businessmen to discuss their priorities for the coming year. Scott Waller, President of MEC, told reporters that he didn’t have time to read all the bills but that his organization supports the work being done to improve road and bridge infrastructure. Waller stated, “At the end, I think where we need to really focus is where there are dollars available, or if there are, and secondly, how is it if it shifts from one agency to another?” Waller argued that a moratorium was not necessary because the definition of “new roads” is too broad. He said that while the Mississippi Department of Transportation considers a lot of its spending construction, those funds are actually used to repair existing roads and not to build new ones. “I think that before we say “let’s not build any new roads”, let’s identify what they consider a new road Waller said. “Is it new construction if you have a highway that is in need of repair? Reeves, unlike most of the other speakers at the event was not concerned about roads in his MEC speech. Reeves instead stated that job creation should be the number one priority of the state. 1 priority. Reeves stated that the state should be focusing on fiscal responsibility to do this. He told the packed room that Mississippi must improve its educational attainment and that it needs a fair tax code that promotes economic development. Senator Willie Simmons (D-Cleveland), who is also Reeves’ transportation chairman, stated that he was concerned about several aspects of the House bills. Simmons stated that $50 million for bridges is not enough. “Look at all the bridges in our state. Look at the local bridges in Bolivar and Sunflower counties. These three counties have more than 80 bridges that have been shut down. It’s going to cost money and neither the state nor the local government can do it. Simmons stated that all parties must support the effort. Simmons also repeated the sentiment of House Democrats who stated that stopping new road construction would be detrimental to poor areas. “We must generate enough money so that we can pay for the formula that funds all parts of the state. Simmons stated that if we don’t, we will see that rural areas of the state won’t receive dollars. The dollars we have now would go to counties with a growing population and that have the potential to bring in industry at a high level. Contributing: Adam Ganucheau, Kendra Ablaza