Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – A coalition of road builders and others interested in the state’s transportation needs is expected to make a recommendation to a reluctant 2014 Legislature for additional revenue or a tax increase to improve Mississippi’s roads and bridges.
“We are going to give them a list – say here are the needs and here are some options to address those needs,” said Hollis Cheek of Cheek Contractors in Kosciusko, who is president of the Mississippi Road Builders Association.
“…We don’t want to dictate a specific solution. We want to give them (legislators) a variety of options.”
Cheek predicted those proposals will be made just before the Legislature convenes in January or soon after that.
The Road Builders Association held its annual luncheon Tuesday where it heard a report from its national counterpart on the importance of transportation construction to the economy of Mississippi.
Alison Black, an economist and vice president of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, said that highway and bridge construction accounted for more than 31,000 jobs in Mississippi.
But the 18.4 cent-per-gallon motor fuel that funds most of the state’s infrastructure work is no longer enough to keep up with needs, according to state Department of Transportation officials and others. In a video played at the luncheon, former Republican House member Charlie Williams, who is president of the T1 Coalition, said construction costs have increased 300 percent since 1987 when the tax was imposed. During that same time, the revenue generated from the tax has remained essentially unchanged.
The T1 Coalition is hoping to generate grassroots support similar to what led to the 1987 Four-Lane Program and the 18.4 cent-per-gallon tax that supports it.
But thus far the support has been lukewarm. A task force created by the 2013 session of the state Senate to look at the state’s infrastructure needs and to make a recommendation on a method to address them has not been able to reach consensus.
Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, a Republican who was one of the first politicians in the state to advocate additional tax revenue for roads and bridges, said the Legislature will act on the issue when the business community becomes involved.
“I think the business community is listening,” Hall said after the luncheon. “I think it will get involved and when it does get involved there will be movement.”
Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert, also a Republican, said “everything should be on the table” in dealing with the state’s transportation needs. He said the study which shows transportation-influenced jobs account for an annual payroll of $949 million and $188 million in state revenue shows that there is no downside to investing in transportation.
He said the investment is an economic generator while improving the quality of life for residents. He said those supporting additional revenue must convince legislators that transportation has to be a priority for the state.
“We need additional revenue, period,” said Tagert.
Hall said 12 states in the past year have raised some type of tax to support transportation needs.