March 10, 2017 10:55:40 AM
JACKSON -- The Mississippi House is renewing efforts to pump money into transportation to address concerns that aging roads and bridges are hurting the state economy.
Representatives voted 109-7 Thursday for a bill to borrow $50 million in bonds to pay for bridges, with half the money going to counties and half to cities.
The bill would earmark tens of millions of dollars for roads and bridges from taxes that companies voluntarily collect for internet sales. Half the money would go to the Mississippi Department of Transportation, with cities and counties receiving 25 percent each.
It also would put more money into transportation if the economy perks up and the state budget again grows at least 2 percent a year. The budget fell short of that mark this year and last.
The House put the transportation funding proposals into Senate Bill 2939 , which returns to the Senate.
The two chambers are likely to try to negotiate a final agreement before the three-month legislative session ends in early April.
The state chamber of commerce, Mississippi Economic Council, has been pushing lawmakers to boost transportation spending.
"The bill brings a solution for real and needed relief to the ever-growing problem of Mississippi's crumbling roads and bridges," Scott Waller, chief operating officer of MEC, said during a news conference Thursday at the Capitol.
The Federal Highway Administration last week completed an audit of 114 local bridges, and 57 were closed because of safety concerns. Waller said that brought the total number of local bridges closed to 215, and those closures cause about 65,000 detours a day.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said Thursday that tax cuts in recent years have erased billions of dollars that could go to roads and bridges, including cuts for out-of-state corporations, a reduction in the inventory tax and even a reduction in taxes on liquor. He said the state also has given hundreds of millions of dollars of incentives for developers to build shopping malls, and the developers didn't need the help.
"You couldn't keep people from going to those shopping centers if you called out the National Guard with bayonets fixed," Bryan said.
As Bryan spoke, legislators and lobbyists who had attended the MEC news conference quickly walked away from him. He demanded to know where they had been when legislators were cutting taxes.
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