Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – A task force created by the state Senate to look at Mississippi’s transportation needs tentatively plans to hold at least three public hearings throughout the state to garner input.
The public hearings will have to be held soon to give the Transportation Task Force time to compile recommendation to submit to the Senate at the start of the 2014 session in January.
Senate Transportation Chairman Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, had hoped to develop a consensus from the task force members on additional revenue, such as an increase in the tax on gasoline, to provide additional funds on the state and local level to improve roads and bridges.
But absent that consensus from the task force, Simmons said, “listening sessions” could be conducted.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said the sessions could be “educational” for the public particularly when state and local needs are explained.
The task force is composed of various business leaders and government officials.
While there has been no consensus on raising taxes, Bryan said there has been agreement reached that:
• The current amount of revenue is not enough to meet all the needs.
• The current gasoline tax, which is 18.4 cents per gallon, is not generating enough revenue to keep up with the rapidly increasing costs of building and maintaining roads. Bryan pointed out that there are vehicles on the roads now using no gasoline.
• The transportation system on the state and local level should be considered as one entity.
“We have to have a vision,” Bryan said.
Some of the task force members wanted a study of the Department of Transportation being done by a legislative watchdog group completed before they decided on a final recommendation. Max Arinder, executive director of the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee, told the task force members that the study of the efficiency standards of the agency would not be completed in time.
But, he said, “I can tell you even by the most conservative estimates of what the needs are there are not enough efficiencies to meet them,” he said. “They are just not there.”