Transportation panel eyes plan with accountability

Mississippi State NewsBy Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Senate Transportation Chair Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, said he and others wanting to raise taxes for state infrastructure improvement are obligated to ensure that the money will go for stated needs and must provide accountability and transparency.

Simmons is chairing a task force of community leaders, transportation experts and governmental officials to look at the possibility of raising revenue for improvements to the transportation system and for other infrastructure needs.

At a Wednesday meeting of the task force at the Capitol, Max Arinder, director of the Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee, said for a revenue increase effort to be successful, “You got to be able to tell the general public you will use the dollars wisely.”

Simmons said the goal is to develop some proposals before holding town hall meetings across the state on the issue in October with the plan of having a recommendation for the Legislature to consider finalized in December. Simmons said he hopes to build public support for the endeavor through the statewide meetings.

But for Simmons to develop consensus on the task force might be difficult. Jay Moon, executive director of the powerful Mississippi Manufacturers Association and a task force member, told the panel Wednesday that highways and roads are important, but before proceeding an independent study of all of the state’s transportation needs should be completed. He said successful economic development not only depends on good roads, but also on ports, airports and rails.

According to information provided by PEER at earlier meetings of the task force, $400 million is needed annually to maintain Mississippi roads, but only $150 million is being spent.

Supporters of the revenue increase said since 1987, when the current revenue structure was put in place, maintenance costs for roadways have risen 128 percent while the revenue generated by an 18.4-cent per gallon tax on motor fuel has remained flat.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said unless the issue is addressed, state leaders will have to make choices, such as whether to trim the existing transportation system and eliminate all new roadwork.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com