JACKSON — Mississippi will need strong bipartisan leadership if officials want to increase the gasoline tax to pay for highways, bridges and other transportation needs, the policy director of a national group called Transportation for America told state business leaders Thursday.
Joe McAndrew described such a debate as “a tricky political question,” and said gathering support to increase or restructure a gas tax could take years. He said it helps to have support from city and county elected officials, and some states win that support by creating grant programs that would provide money for specific local transportation projects.
He said that across the nation, gas tax revenues are stagnant, in part, because people are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles and are buying less fuel. At the same time, the costs of highway and bridge construction are increasing.
“Congress, shockingly, hasn’t done anything to solve the problem,” McAndrew said during the annual meeting of the Mississippi Economic Council, the state chamber of commerce.
He said 12 states have increased or restructured their gasoline tax since 2012 to help pay for highways and other transportation projects. Some have eliminated the per-gallon tax on gasoline and have replaced it with a different type of tax that is less dependent on fuel consumption.
Mississippi’s tax on gasoline and diesel fuel has been 18.8 cents per gallon since 1987.
Some lawmakers have said for years that the state should increase the tax to pay for highway and bridge repairs. But there was no serious discussion of any sort of tax increase during the legislative session this election year.
Chip Morgan is head of the Delta Council, a regional economic development group in northwestern Mississippi. He said that because of some structurally deficient bridges in that part of the state, people transporting grain or other heavy loads have had to take long detours that are adding to their business expenses.
Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, was among the lawmakers who listened to the transportation discussion Thursday. He said afterward that he commutes daily on U.S. 49 from his home to a law office in Jackson, about 25 miles each way, and the highway is in bad shape. Gipson said he opposes increasing the gas tax, but he is willing to debate other options that could generate more money to improve the transportation system.
“We’ve got to make an intelligent, informed decision on a long-range plan,” Gipson said.
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