Diverting road money decried by Mississippi highway agency

| 10/13/2004

Mississippi transportation officials are pleading with state lawmakers to stop raiding road funds to balance other parts of the budget.

At a recent hearing, state Transportation Director Butch Brown gave lawmakers a list of more than two dozen projects that have been postponed due to cuts.

“We just have too many balls in the air, and we can’t continue the juggling act,” Brown told the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

Over the past two years, $232 million has been diverted from the department to fill budget holes at other agencies, The Sun Herald reported.

Mississippi Department of Transportation officials warned that the agency has been reduced to the point that the bulk of its monies must be used to match federal road dollars available for larger projects and highways. This jeopardizes smaller projects funded only by state money.

“Today, we are mainly managing a federal system because all the state money is going to match federal funds on the projects that are eligible,” said Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown.

Of the $781 million annual budget, federal funds make up $410 million, while state fuel taxes account for $254 million. MDOT receives no general funds.

Senate Transportation Chair Billy Hewes III, R-Gulfport, told the newspaper he hopes further cuts to the highway department can be avoided in fiscal year 2006.

“I think MDOT has carried more than its fair share during this budget crisis,” he said.