January 12, 2018 11:11:18 AM
JACKSON -- With bipartisan support, the Mississippi House is advancing a plan to send millions of state dollars to cities and counties to help pay for roads and bridges.
House members voted 118-0 Thursday to pass House Bill 722. But the bill's prospects are unclear in the Senate because many questions remain about how the shift in money would affect other state services, including education.
The bill would set aside a portion of what the state collects each year from the "use tax ," which is paid on goods that will be shipped from out of state for use, storage or consumption in Mississippi.
The state collects more than $300 million a year in use tax. The bill says 35 percent of collections would go to roads and bridges -- 15 percent each to cities and counties, and 5 percent to a state fund that would provide grants to local governments.
Republican Rep. Trey Lamar of Senatobia, who has been in the House since 2012, called the bill "the most significant piece of legislation I've seen in my time here."
At a House Democratic Caucus news conference after the bill passed, Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez said Democrats would oppose taking money away from education, Child Protective Services and Medicaid. He also said they would oppose pay cuts or layoffs of state employees.
"Where we're giving corporate tax cuts, where people are getting money that they don't need -- that's where the hit ought to come, not from the citizens and the services we provide for the people of the state of Mississippi," Johnson said.
The House last week passed three other transportation bills -- House Bill 357 to borrow $50 million for county and city bridge repairs, House Bill 354 to devote part of any future state revenue growth to transportation, and House Bill 359 to ban new state construction projects. The bills will go to the Senate for the possibility of more debate.