Transportation tax hike proposed

Mississippi State NewsBy Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, chairman of a task force looking at the state’s infrastructure needs, challenged his members to come up with a plan to raise additional revenue.

On Thursday, Simmons offered his own plan to raise more than $700 million in revenue through a wide array of taxes, ranging from more than doubling the current motor fuels tax to increasing the tax on the sale of agriculture produce. Simmons’ proposal also included a slight increase in the casino gambling tax, on the purchase of car tires, on title fees for vehicles and on the privilege tax paid by big truckers.

There were few areas not hit by Simmons’ proposal, but he stressed it was only a starting point to help facilitate a conversation about raising additional revenue for transportation and infrastructure. The goal of the task force, which is comprised of senators, business leaders, transportation leaders and others, is to have a report completed for the 2014 Legislature on how to deal with Mississippi’s many infrastructure needs.

Simmons proposed a portion of the revenue generated from his plan also would go for infrastructure needs, such as to upgrade water and sewer systems, and for capital needs at the universities, community colleges and for state office buildings.

Jay Moon, executive director of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association and a task force member, said while those projects might be worthy, he said that the panel should focus on its original task – the state’s transportation needs.

After the meeting, Moon reiterated, though, that he and his powerful lobbying group would not support tax increases without “an independent analysis of what the priorities would be.”

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, also a task force member, had offered a more modest proposal to the committee – as a starting point – earlier this summer.

Bryan said modest “shared sacrifices” could garner funds to meet the bulk of the state’s infrastructure needs, including those of local governments, for the foreseeable future. Bryan said modest increases in taxes, such as increasing the sales tax from 7 percent to 7.1 percent, the casino gambling tax from 8 percent to 8.1 percent and a similar increase in the income tax, would generate $70 million annually. He said matching those funds with $70 million in state revenue growth would generate $140 million annually that would pay off a $2 billion bond issue. Bryan said it “would be criminal” for current leaders not to deal with the many infrastructure needs facing local governments.

“The problem we have is that water and sewer systems all over the state need to be repaired,” Bryan said. “We can’t just let water and sewer go away, let alone all the roads that need to be maintained.”

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.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com