Hall said some in the Legislature must think his multiple warnings that the state needs to spend significantly more on transportation are “lying words” because if they believed him they “would actually have to get off their butts and do something.”
Hall, who has been the Central District commissioner since 1999, spoke Monday to the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government/capitol press corps luncheon.
“To allow this multi-billion dollar investment we made in our highways to deteriorate to the level we have is just plain dumb,” he said. “This is a safety issue, a convenience issue and an economic issue. Unfortunately, to some it is simply a political issue.”
Most legislators now agree with Hall that more needs to be spent on addressing the state’s and local governments’ infrastructure needs, but a consensus has not been reached on a funding source. Hall said Monday as he has in the past that the tax on motor fuel is the most logical method of paying for the needs. The Department of Transportation currently relies on an 18.4-cent per gallon tax on motor fuels – one of the lowest in the nation that has not been increased since 1987 – as its primary source of state revenue.
Hall said 26 states have increased taxes on motor fuel in the past four years and eight have done so this year.
“If voters can see their tax dollars at work, raising the fuel tax need not be so controversial,” Hall reasoned.
But he added that in the future, steps need to be taken to ensure users of vehicles that do not rely on fossil fuels also are taxed for road and bridge maintenance.
As Hall put on his red cap, similar to the “Make America great again” hat worn by President Donald Trump, he said he has talked to the president about their common goal of providing more of a focus on infrastructure.
Hall said he has feared that the president wanted to use the private sector – namely toll roads – to fund much of his plan. In rural states, such as Mississippi, toll roads would not be a sufficient way to pay for transportation needs.
Hall said the only route where a toll road might work in Mississippi is going from populous Rankin County over the Pearl River into Jackson. Hall said he wanted to explore that option.
But Hall added he recently had heard reports that the president “might be cooling on the public-private partnerships, hinting that the rebuilding of transportation infrastructure is a public responsibility, which Democrats have been basically saying all along.”
The Republican Hall pointed out, though, that it was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who in the 1950s pushed through the interstate system that has been crucial to the nation’s commerce.
Hall said currently Mississippi has 1,054 deficient bridges with a total cost of $2.5 billion to repair or replace and 5,000 miles of highway in need of “serious repair” costing $1 billion.
“How can we possibly pretend that nothing needs to be done?” Hall asked.