JACKSON — The heads of the Mississippi Legislature’s two transportation committees are considering raising the gas tax to maintain highways and bridges.
The idea comes amid an ongoing discussion on how to fund repairs for the state transportation system. Department of Transportation executive director Melinda McGrath told transportation committees of the House and Senate earlier this month that the department needs $526 million more a year to repair more than one-third of highways and nearly one-fourth of the state’s bridges.
McGrath said the state system supports 90 percent of Mississippi’s business traffic, and asked legislators to consider the economic consequences of damaged bridges and roads that Mississippi drivers can’t use. She also said costs for necessary repairs will only increase as the repairs are delayed. The department estimates the cost of a project delayed more than 10 years could increase by six to 14 times the original amount.
Mississippi Economic Council Vice President Scott Waller repeated McGrath’s earlier warnings Thursday at a joint meeting of the transportation committees.
The businesses coalition called for $300 million for state repairs and $75 million for local and county repairs a year under its 10-year “Excelerate Mississippi” plan. Wilson said the plan would cost Mississippians 37 cents a day per vehicle but fund replacements for 138 state bridges needing immediate repair and more than 400 bridges over time.
“It is incumbent on us to seize the day,” Waller said. “These aren’t someone else’s road and bridges. These are our roads and bridges.”
The Legislature last approved a major increase in funding for transportation repairs in 1987.
Total costs for construction materials like asphalt and concrete have increased by more than 480 percent since then, Central Mississippi Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall has said. He told lawmakers that without an increase in funding the department is only “managing the demise” of the state’s transportation system.
The MEC proposal offered the committee funding options including a 1 cent-per-gallon increase in the state excise tax on gas or diesel to 19.4 cents per gallon and a general sales tax increase of 0.05 percent, with an exemption for groceries and medicine.
Senate Transportation Chairman Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, said he would support a gas tax increase as long as it’s adjusted for inflation.
“We need to get people to understand that it’s better to increase taxes by a small percentage than bear the costs of doing nothing,” Simmons said.
House Transportation Chairman Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, also said he would support a gas tax as long as the money is used efficiently.
“It makes sense to place the burden on those using the roads most,” Busby said. “I think they would be on board as long as the money is used efficiently for specific projects.”
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