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Lottery? Local gas tax? New proposals to fund roads, bridges

Mississippi officials are rolling out new ideas for pay for roads and bridges. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant says a lottery is one possibility, while House leaders are proposing a local fuel tax, subject to approval by voters in cities or counties.

Mississippi is one of six states without a lottery, and Bryant said Thursday that he might ask legislators to consider creating one during a special session next month — but only if the state chamber of commerce supports using proceeds from the game to help pay for highways and bridges.

Improving transportation has been a big issue for the Mississippi Economic Council, but the group hasn’t taken a public position about a lottery.

“I know they’ve discussed it but there’s been no final decision as to whether or not they would come forward as a state chamber and say, ‘We would support a state lottery for the purposes of infrastructure,'” Bryant, a Republican, told reporters at the Capitol. “I think that would be very helpful and would help make a decision as to whether or not it would be part of a session.”

MEC’s new interim president and CEO, Scott Waller, confirmed in a separate interview that the group is seeking an independent evaluation of the economic impact of a lottery and how much money it might generate.

Waller said that as of Thursday, “We don’t have the information we need to make an informed decision on this.”

Bryant asked legislators to consider creating a lottery the regular session that ended in late March, but not as a specified source of transportation funding. He said he has asked state economist Darrin Webb to evaluate the issue.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican and local Baptist church leader from Clinton, opposes a lottery but created a group to study it.

Legislators begin a special session June 5 to finish the state budget for the year that begins July 1. Some legislators hope to also consider a multi-year transportation funding plan.

Gunn and other House leaders on Thursday released a new list of proposals to fund highways and bridges. One is to let cities and counties set a local option fuel tax, if residents approve. Details about the amount of a local tax for gasoline and diesel fuel have not been set.

The new House proposal includes $100 million in bonds for roads and bridges in areas with casinos, using casino revenue to pay the debt. This would extend a program that is already in place.

The House is reviving a proposal to take online sales taxes that some companies already collect voluntarily and use part of it for transportation. Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves blocked that during the regular session.

The House is reviving two other proposals from the regular session. One is that the state would issue $50 million in bonds to help cities and counties pay for bridge repair and replacement. The other proposal says that if state revenue increases by more than 2 percent a year, half of the new money would be set aside for roads and bridges.

Only the governor can call a special session, and he tells lawmakers which issues they may consider. Reeves spokeswoman Laura Hipp said the lieutenant governor declined to comment on the House transportation proposals Thursday because Bryant has not said whether he will put them on the session agenda.

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