A special legislative task force that’s worked most of the summer on Mississippi’s transportation revenue needs ran into a familiar roadblock to progress last week when members (including some from outside the Legislature) refused to consider raising additional revenue for what all agree are pressing maintenance and new construction needs.
The task force, chaired by Senate Transportation Chairman Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, is bipartisan and came to the impasse Wednesday when it did not move ahead on even considering new sources of revenue.
The aversion to any new tax revenues, even for the state’s necessities like highway maintenance, safety and construction is overtly political and continues a disturbing reluctance among many legislators to move toward solutions until an emergency develops.
Some on the task force want to devote additional study to see if the Mississippi Department of Transportation is using existing funds efficiently.
Considering the scope and the amount of money MDOT handles it seems probable some inefficiencies can be found, but small inefficiencies won’t put a dent in the $700 million estimated to be needed in the near term to repair and build highways.
Perhaps most frustrating is absence of progressive leadership from the business interests depending heavily on adequate surface transportation.
Simmons set another meeting for Oct. 16 and urged members to come up with their own “ways and means” to deal with transportation issues.
We hope some member has strong insight of a method that could produce the necessary revenue. The task force doesn’t need to waste time on questionable, half-hearted and unproven approaches. In other words, innovation but no gimmicks.
Max Arinder, director of the Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee, notably reiterated to the task force members that no one had refuted established testimony of the many transportation needs in the state.
Highway construction priorities, of course have been established in law in the Vision 21 program. As previously and frequently stated, 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 short.
The Oct. 16 meeting needs not just new ideas but a stronger grasp of how revenue can be generated.