OUR OPINION: More funds needed to maintain highways

By NEMS Daily Journal

A special Mississippi Senate task force on adequate highway funding began meeting this month under a deadline to make action recommendations to the 2014 legislative session.
Its work is timely and important. Mississippi, for the most part, has built a long-sought statewide four-lane highway system, but its durability is threatened by the declining proportionate value of tax revenue to maintain it and build new mileage.
Elected highway commissioners in the three regional districts and many legislators have called attention to the situation, but so far nothing proposed by various advocates has sparked wide support.
The task force includes Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, a senior legislator and longtime statewide highways advocate. Bryan was appointed by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican who recognizes the necessity of bipartisan action and support.
The Mississippi House declined to participate. The task force is scheduled to meet again July 10-11 at the Capitol. Senate Highways and Transportation Chairman Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, heads the task force and has said all options will be considered.
During the 2013 session, proposals to increase the 18.8-cent tax on motor fuel were discussed. Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, a Republican, maintains the tax generates 8 cents by today’s standards instead of the 18.8 cents it generated in 1987 when it was enacted to support the 1987 Highway Program.
“We are in a position now where we cannot maintain the highways that we have,” Simmons said.
Many more people arguably agree with Simmons’ view than disagree. Simple observation informs drivers that frequent intervals on virtually all of the state’s major roads have substantial stress, reflecting the rigor of increased traffic, less gasoline spending and normal wear-and-tear.
Additional task force meetings are scheduled at the Capitol and are open to all:
• July 10, 2013, 1 p.m., Room 210
• July 11, 9 a.m., Room 210
• Aug. 7, 2013, 1 p.m., Room 210
• Aug. 8, 2013, 9 a.m., Room 210
• Sept. 4, 2013, 1 p.m., Room 210
• Sept. 5, 2013, 9 a.m., Room 210
Simmons can be reached at simmons@senate.ms.gov, his official email address.