A Mississippi state representative tabled bills by senators to name highways after their constituents after the Senate killed a bill that would have provided funds for road repair.
The move by Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, came as the Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, called Wednesday for immediate action on road funding. Busby is the chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
“It was to bring some attention to the fact that we are not maintaining our roads as we should be. I don’t know what it’s going to take to get people’s attention,” Busby said. He added, “I don’t know that we’re honoring anybody if we put a sign for them beside a highway that we’re not going to maintain.”
Busby tabled the memorial bills the day after Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, killed a bill in the Senate that would have authorized an internet tax to pay for road repair.
“Mississippi roads matter. It’s time to fix our crumbling roads and bridges,” Joe Frank Sanderson, the CEO of Laurel-based poultry company Sanderson Farms, said at a news conference. Sanderson Farms is Mississippi’s largest publicly held corporation.
“We need more than words,” Sanderson said. His company depends on rural roads to get feed to farmers and chickens to processing plants.
Reeves did not speak at the news conference, although Mississippi Economic Council Chief Operating Officer Scott Waller said he was invited.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said at the news conference that he was “disappointed that bill did not survive.”
Gunn noted that House members are still pushing a bill to borrow $50 million and distribute it to counties and cities for bridge repairs. He also said that the Mississippi Department of Transportation has drawn up $50 million worth of spending cuts that would free up more money for road work.
Waller told reporters that the Mississippi Economic Council would ask Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, to call for a special session if lawmakers could reach an agreement for a long-term fix on road funding.
MEC, the state chamber of commerce, proposed in 2015 that the state should increase transportation spending by $375 million per year, with $300 million going to state highways and $75 million going to local government. Wednesday the group delivered more than 4,000 “road maintenance requests” signed by citizens supporting its plan. The Mississippi Department of Transportation has said even more money is needed, above $500 million a year, but many Republicans have balked at tax increases.
Waller said MEC believes that the money should come from a combination of increased fuel taxes and other sources.
“If we continue to wait and do nothing, it’s only going to get worse,” Waller said, urging continued efforts this year to solve the problem. “I don’t want to just walk away and say there’s nothing else we can do.”
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