Fix for Mississippi’s Crumbling Transportation System Not Expected Soon

A comprehensive plan to deal with what many say is a deteriorating transportation system in Mississippi most likely will not be passed during the 2017 legislative session.

Feb. 22 was the deadline for such a proposal to pass at least one chamber of the Legislature. While the comprehensive plan is dead, the House has passed two streams of revenue designed to address what the Mississippi Economic Council and others have labeled as a major problem with the state’s transportation system.

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“I am disappointed, but I am happy the Internet sales tax is alive,” said Rep. Steve Massengill, the vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee. “That looks like all we are going to get, and maybe a little in bonds.”

The House has passed a bill to issue $50 million in bonds to finance repairs of substandard bridges owned by cities and counties. That proposal passed Feb. 21.

Earlier this session, the House also passed a bill to try to force Internet retailers to collect the 7% tax on the items they sell to Mississippians and remit those funds to the state.

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Both bills are pending in the Senate.

It has been estimated that the Internet tax legislation could generate between $75 million and $125 million annually for the state, but there is a possibility that some of the retailers might file a legal challenge to the requirement they collect the tax.

But if the bill does become law as it passed the House, it would designate the funds generated to transportation needs. The state would get 70% of the revenue for infrastructure needs, and the cities and counties would get 30%.

The state’s business community, led by the Mississippi Economic Council, has proposed a program to spend an additional $375 million annually for road and bridge needs. Many agree such a program is needed, but House Speaker Philip Gunn said recently that he believes additional research on the transportation needs must be done before a consensus can be obtained on raising revenue for a comprehensive plan.

The MEC study found that 936 state bridges and more than 24,500 miles of state highways are in disrepair, and on the local level, 2,989 bridges and nearly 13,300 roads are in need of repair.

It would take $6.6 billion to fund all of the transportation needs, the MEC study found.

Feb. 23 was the deadline for budget and revenue bills, including bond bills, to pass at least one chamber.

Both chambers essentially passed dummy bond bills, leaving the task to the legislative leadership in the final days of the session to decide how much in bonds to issue for long-term construction projects.

The House bill proposing to issue $50 million for bridge repairs was one of the few bond bills to pass that was not a placeholder or dummy bill.

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