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New poll shows Mississippi voters back higher gas taxes for roads, bridges

transportation poll 2By TED CARTER

A poll released Feb. 29 reports bi-partisan support among Mississippi voters for raising motor fuels taxes to help maintain the state’s highways and bridges.

Magellan Strategies BR’s automated telephone survey shows 43 percent support from Republican voters and 42 percent from Democrats. The pollsters surveyed “likely” voters in the state’s March 8 presidential primaries. A total of 995 Republicans and 471 Democrats responded.

Opposition from likely Republican voters stood at 37 percent and at 26 percent from likely Democratic voters. However, more Democrats reported being undecided, at 33 percent, than Republicans, at 20 percent.

The poll, conducted for the right-leaning political website Y’allPolitics, has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points on Republicans polled and 4.5 percentage points on Democrats polled.

Southern Research Group polling of 1,000 registered Mississippi voters  shortly before the end of the year showed 53 percent support for “a reasonable plan for raising taxes and fees” to fix highways and bridges. Opposition stood at 37.3 percent and undecided at 9.7 percent.

The Southern Research Group poll had a 3 percentage point margin of error.

Another poll, this one by The Polling Co. Inc. for the Mississippi chapter of the right-wing Americans for Prosperity, showed overwhelming disapproval of higher gasoline taxes for roads and bridges.

The poll of 500 registered voters reported 86 percent disapproval. A total of 73 percent said they would be less likely to vote for their legislative representatives if they voted for increased gas taxes.

Mississippi Watchdog.org reported the polling but did not say when The Polling Co. did the survey nor the method used in the polling. No margin of error was listed.

The poll for Y’allPolitics comes just as legislators begin to take their first action on what could be the most ambitious transportation funding bill in more than a quarter century. A 15-member transportation task force created by the Mississippi Economic Council, is proposing increased motor fuels taxes and new user fees to pay for $375 million in highway and bridge maintenance annually for 10 years.

Sen. Willie Simmons, a Cleveland Democrat and Chairman of the Transportation Committee, said Tuesday he will write the bill and introduce it by early next week. He faces a deadline of Wednesday for gaining Senate approval of the bill.

“I have high expectations” for getting a bill out of the Senate, Simmons said. He declined, however, to predict what the House and its new Republican super majority will do.

In mid-February, House Transportation Committee Chairman Charles Busby said he will consider tax increases to raise money for the state’s transportation system. The Associated Press reported Busby said he’ll consider tax increases as long as the money goes toward specific projects that need immediate repairs.

Based on past votes, Simmons thinks he can get backing in the Senate, though on just what he is unsure. “There is a lot of support for trying to do something. The question is, ‘How do we pay for?’”

Simmons said he is attracted to the fuel tax option because it “gets to the users.”

The MEC task force made up of business and civic leaders from across the state proposed raising $375 million annually from a combination of new motor fuel taxes, sales taxes and rental and car tag fees. Of the total, $75 million annually would go to counties and cities for their road and bridge maintenance.

Blake Wilson, MEC president and CEO, said he is unsure what shape the legislation will take. “This is part of a process,” he said in an interview Monday. “Legislators are looking at all kinds of things.

He said MEC members are optimistic that “everyone understands the need.”

Even if a bill does not come off the floor of either legislative body next week, that does not keep a funding measure from going forward later in the session, Wilson said. “They can continue to work on how to best approach it for another month.”

The MEC, he said, has been careful not to push any specific solutions.

Wilson said the task force settled on the $375 million as an “approachable number.”

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About Ted Carter

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