Mississippi special session to focus on transportation

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/20/2018

Mississippi state lawmakers are headed back to the capitol this week to see what they can get done to address transportation needs.

As of mid-August there are 437 locally-owned bridges across the state that are closed because they are deemed to be unsafe by inspectors. Another 1,745 are posted with specific weight limits due to structural deficiencies.

Local governments do not have the funds to pay their share for necessary repairs to get the bridges reopened.

Gov. Phil Bryant last week announced his plan to convene a two-day special session starting Thursday, Aug. 23. The session will focus on coming up with a plan to address a projected $400 million annual shortfall to cover costs of road and bridge work.

BP oil disaster settlement spending is included in the special session call.

“(The special session) will address infrastructure repair and maintenance and a plan to allocate BP money that prioritizes our Gulf Coast’s economy,” Bryant said via Twitter.

The Magnolia State relies on about $1 billion each year in federal funds and from state sources, including the 18-cent fuel excise tax and truck fees.

The Republican governor and GOP legislators have proposed or discussed multiple options to address transportation funding needs. Options to aid infrastructure include diverting internet sales taxes, tapping into sports betting revenue, creating a state lottery, borrowing, and diverting available funds.

A possible increase to the state’s fuel tax rate, which has remained the same since the 1980s, is another option but it has found little support at the statehouse.

Earlier this year during the regular session, both chambers of the state Legislature approved differing versions of one bill to raise $1 billion for transportation over five years.

The Senate-approved version called for borrowing $150 million this year and tapping funds typically earmarked for other budgets to pay for roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The governor would effectively control the money.

About 60 percent of the revenue would be routed for state needs. The rest would be divvied up between city and county projects.

House lawmakers, however, approved a version that called for diverting a portion of use-tax collections to cities and counties for road and bridge maintenance. Use-tax is collected from sales tax charged on any out-of-state purchases, including online sales.

Cities and counties would receive 35 percent, or about $108 million annually, for road and bridge repair.

The House version would have also authorized $100 million in general obligation bonds for projects throughout the state. The state’s three elected transportation commissioners would control the fund.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Mississippi, click here.




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