MDOT officials originally had said that if no budget was approved for the agency by May 15 that they would be forced to suspend contracts, placing additional costs on the already cash-strapped agency.
But in response to an emailed question where Jason Scott, a spokesman for MDOT, was asked if the state would not lose any money if the Legislature passes a budget “in short order” in the June 5 special session, he replied, “If that happens, then, yes you are correct.”
The Legislature ended the 2017 regular session in late March without approving a budget for the Department of Transportation, forcing Gov. Phil Bryant to call the special session. In the regular session, the House killed the budget bill for MDOT, saying it wanted to try to force the Senate leadership “to the table” to consider options to provide more funds to deal with what many groups have said is a deteriorating transportation system across the state.
While MDOT officials have lobbied for additional funding, they originally said that if no budget is passed by May 15, they would be required to notify contractors of the possibility of not having available funds for the new fiscal year beginning July 1, resulting in the possibility of contracts being halted and “consequently increased costs.”
Melinda McGrath, MDOT executive director, said recently that the letter to the contractors still will go out on May 15 as required by state law, but that work will not stop immediately.
She said,“The first letter does not terminate or delay the job. It just puts the contractors and the vendors on notice that if MDOT does not receive a budget, there will be another notification later in June directing them on what they should do. State law says that MDOT cannot authorize any expense after July 1 if the agency does not have a budget. So, contractors would have to prepare job sites to walk off and leave them. If that were to happen, the costs to the state would be in the tens of millions of dollars.”
MDOT has 2,100 active contracts totaling $3 billion for work on the state’s highways and bridges.
McGrath said MDOT “is optimistic that it will get a budget during the special session.”
When the regular session ended, the House leaders who led the effort to kill the Transportation budget expressed confidence that the agency would be funded in the special session.
“If we don’t come to a resolution (on additional funding), we’ll come back in one afternoon probably and just do the budget,” House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said at the end of the regular session in March.
But last week, Nathan Wells, chief of staff for Gunn, sounded less optimistic that the House would approve an MDOT budget without an agreement on a source of revenue to provide the agency additional funds.
Wells said “the will” of the House is that the Legislature should develop a mechanism to provide additional funds for transportation needs.