By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON, Mississippi– A task force created by the 2013 Senate has concluded that the state does not generate enough revenue to take care of its transportation needs.
But the task force, which completed its work Tuesday, did not recommend any method to pay for those needs.
Senate Transportation Chair Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, who chaired the task force that started meeting in the summer, had hoped that the panel would reach consensus on a revenue source to provide additional funds to the state for transportation improvements. But Simmons said the fact the task force did not make that recommendation doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful.
“We found information that supports the need to improve our roads and bridges, and we also found the need for more funds,” Simmons said after the task force’s final meeting at the Capitol. “The question is how do we come up with the revenue to address those needs?”
Simmons said the report will be presented to the Legislature where he will work “to develop a plan to improve our roads and bridges to prevent a tragedy from occurring the future.”
The final report found that 25 percent or, 20,000 miles, of highways are in “very poor condition” and that $400 million is needed annually for highway improvements yet the state can only “commit $150 annually for road repairs.”
The report concluded that 1,054 of the state’s 5,724 bridges are either posted (as in being dangerous) or are closed and that $200 million is needed annually for bridge repair or replacement, yet only $50 million is available.
The problem, the report found, is that the state’s 18.4 cent-per -gallon motor fuel tax is not a growing revenue source as vehicles become more energy efficient.
The report pointed out that the motor fuel tax collections for this past fiscal year were $27 million, or 6.25 percent, lower than in fiscal year 2004.
“Other trends show that there is growing demand for vehicles such as electric cars or natural gas-powered vehicles that do not rely on fuels under Mississippi’s vehicle fuel tax statutes,” the report pointed out.
While the motor fuel tax is not a growing revenue source, the cost of highway construction has exploded, the task force has been told.
The report recommended:
• A joint House-Senate committee continue to look for solutions.
• The Mississippi Department of Transportation make recommendations to the Legislature on developing programs to aid local governments with their infrastructure needs that are as dire as those on the state level.
• MDOT work with the business community and higher education to develop proposals on “heavy corridors or toll corridors” to move commerce.
• MDOT also continue to work to be more transparent and efficient in maintaining the state transportation system.
Simmons pointed out an overview of the agency by the Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee found areas where improvements could be made. Max Arinder, the PEER director, said the agency is working to make most of those improvements, but stressed that would not solve the funding problems facing it.
As the task force met last year, it became apparent that the legislative leadership and Gov. Phil Bryant would not endorse any recommendation that included a tax increase. That fact, to a large extent, impacted the task force’s willingness to support a tax increase directed toward transportation needs.