At a press conference this morning, Charlie Williams, president of the T1 Coalition, laid out his organization’s proposal on at least a short-term solution to the state’s lack of funding for road and bridge maintenance.
T1’s plan does not involve new money. In fact, it’s the opposite — Williams and others gathered at the Capitol are pushing for old money.
Over the past years, the Mississippi Legislature has diverted approximately $300 million from monies collected from user fees under the 1987 Road Program to the General Fund. Williams called for that money to be repaid to the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
“This idea is not a new tax or user fee. It is simply allocating money for which it was originally intended,” Williams said. “We understand that the Legislature has the authority to fund this program however they choose, and this is one idea.”
Williams said the $300 million would serve to “bridge the gap” between now and 2016 when he hopes lawmakers would craft a comprehensive, long-term funding solution.
At the heart of the issue is the 18¢-per-gallon user fee established in 1987 to maintain the roads and bridges. Due to inflation, cars getting better gas mileage and other factors, the state is not currently collecting enough funding for road and bridge maintenance.
Blake Wilson, who heads the Mississippi Economic Council and who spoke at the press conference, emphasized that when the 1987 program was enacted, Mississippi was last in the U.S. in four-lane highway accessibility. Today, the state ranks 16th and first in the South.
Why would we give up our competitive advantage? Why would we want to give up ground we gained,” he asked.