In a press conference Thursday (4/12/18) morning, Speaker of the House of Representatives Philip Gunn presented a proposal to fund ongoing road and bridge repairs throughout the state, made more urgent by the emergency closing of 83 state bridges in 16 counties mandated Tuesday by Governor Phil Bryant.
Gunn said there had been “a lot of discussion on the House side, and we’ve been talking about this very serious issue for two years now. We have not stopped working since the conclusion of the legislative session. In fact, in this session, we have provided $50 million of funding that will take effect in the budget year beginning July 1.”
However, Gunn continued by saying that a “continuous stream of money” must be provided to address ongoing infrastructure repairs. He said one idea is to take existing monies generated by a use tax and allocate 1/3 of $315 million, approximately $110 million, to cities and counties and the Local System Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program (LSBP) administered by the Office of State Aid Road Construction.
Under this plan, fifteen percent, or approximately $47 million, would go to cities; fifteen percent, or $47 million to counties; and five percent, or $16 million, would be channeled through the LSBP.
Gunn also put forward the idea of a “tax swap,” in which designated levels of state income tax are eliminated in favor of a 2-cent gas tax phased in each year over a four-year period. At the current time, the first $5,000 of earned income is taxed at 3%, the second $5,000 at 4%, and above $10,000 at 5%.
By shifting the three percent to two percent and the two percent to one percent, with an accompanying gas tax increase of 2 cents per year over four years, a total of 8 cents would be added to gasoline taxes, generating an estimated income of $175 million dollars to be designated for road, bridge, water, or sewer repairs for cities and counties.
Gunn also mentioned that emergency repair money might be generated by issuing bonds through a special fund designated as the “Gaming Counties Bond Sinking Fund,” which addresses roads leading to gaming sites in the counties where they are situated, as well as those adjacent to them. Gunn said this would impact 66 of the 82 Mississippi counties, with a potential of $150 million funded over a five-year period.
Gunn stressed that he is not proposing any new taxes but rather a move from “an income tax-based model to a user tax model. I challenge anyone to give me a reason why this wouldn’t work. It’s something we’ve got to do.”
He said the proposals solve the problems, are based on sound economic principles, provide a continuous source of revenue, and do not include an across-the-board tax increase. A modest one percent of yearly economic growth for the state treasury is also factored into the projections.
Gunn said he would be presenting his proposals to the Governor and the Lt. Governor today, and he hopes they “can start discussions. The Governor would like for us to fund a plan, but he won’t call a special session until we have an agreement drafted.”
Gunn said he had no inside information as to if or when the Governor might call a special session to deal with the emergency bridge issue.
By Janet Lee