JACKSON – A task force formed to look at possible sources of additional revenue for the state’s transportation needs seemed reluctant Wednesday to consider any tax increases.
Instead, groups represented on the task force, created by the state Senate earlier this year, suggested additional study of the state’s transportation needs and of the Department of Transportation to determine whether it is efficiently using existing revenue.
Senate Transportation Chair Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, who chairs the task force, had hoped to secure more input about possible sources of revenue at Wednesday’s hearing from members.
The task force includes business leaders, including representatives from groups such as the Farm Bureau and Manufacturing Association and others with an interest in transportation.
Simmons had presented options that would raise both $700 million annually and $600 million annually in new revenue from a litany of tax increases, including on motor fuel. He said he has presented those as a method to start a discussion to reach consensus. But for the most part those proposals were non-starters.
Instead, Simmons set another meeting for Oct. 16 and urged members to come up with their own “ways and means” to deal with transportation issues.
Max Arinder, director of the Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee, reiterated to the task force members that no one had refuted established testimony of the many transportation needs in the state.
But Jay Moon, executive director of the Manufacturing Association, said before talking about additional revenue priorities need to be set.
“I don’t think until we establish a method to establish the priorities that we need to be talking about revenue,” Moon said after the meeting.
But Republican Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, who is not on the Task Force but has been an outspoken advocate of new revenue, says priorities have been established. He said, for instance, that the structural deficiencies of bridges and the traffic count are considered in determining which span to fix first.
Hall said he believes progress is being made in that the members are beginning to recognize the transportation needs of the state. He said a report to the 2014 Legislature highlighting those needs would be a start.
“If they did that, it would be an accomplishment,” Hall said. “They are a long way from any kind of agreement on sources of revenue.”
The Task Force was created in large part because transportation officials say their current revenue stream – derived from an 18.4-cent per gallon tax on motor fuel – is falling far short of generating the funds needed to maintain the current system of highways and roadways.