Meeting to look at funds for highways

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – A task force created by the Mississippi Senate has begun meeting to look for additional sources of revenue to fund the state’s transportation system.
The task force is scheduled to meet again July 10-11 at the state Capitol as it works to make recommendations to the 2014 Legislature on how to generate additional money for transportation.
“At this point, we’re going to look at all options,” said Senate Highways and Transportation Chairman Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, who heads the task force.
During the 2013 session, proposals to increase the 18.8-cent tax on motor fuel were discussed, as was holding a statewide referendum on whether to increase the tax. Another source of revenue proposed was to ensure taxes are collected from people who win small amounts in the state’s casinos.
All of those proposals died.
House Transportation Chairman Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, opted not to include House participation in the task force proposed by Simmons, though, both are in agreement additional funds are needed.
Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall maintains the tax generates 8 cents by today’s standards instead of the 18.8 cents it generated in 1987 when it was enacted.
Construction costs have more than tripled while, at the same time, the revenue generated from the tax on a gallon of motor fuel has increased more modestly. In 1989, that tax generated $219 million annually compared to $288 million today.
“We are in a position now where we cannot maintain the highways that we have,” Simmons said.
The 19-member task force includes five members of the Senate; members of other governmental agencies, such as the Department of Transportation and Mississippi Development Authority; representatives of both the Municipal Association and Supervisors Association; and various other private sector representatives, such as a member of the Mississippi Economic Council.
In general, the Legislature has been adverse to tax increases. Officials who support an additional tax for transportation needs have said they must build public support in the business community to be successful.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com