Home » OPINION » Columns » BILL CRAWFORD: Reeves’ BRIDGE Act would endow his governorship
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves

BILL CRAWFORD: Reeves’ BRIDGE Act would endow his governorship

BILL CRAWFORD

Love him or hate him for it, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves stays true to his autocratic ways. He dropped his complex $1.1 billion “Building Roads, Improving Development, and Growing the Economy (BRIDGE) Act” on the Senate one day last week and passed it the next. 

 
He also stuck in the bill provisions that would allow him expanded autocratic power as Mississippi’s next Governor. In addition to the imaginative funding it would provide, the bill would shift certain authorities from the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) to the Governor. 
 
The big money in the bill, estimated at $800 million, comes mostly from diverting money from the state rainy day fund into a new “Economic Development and Bridge Repair Fund” under the control of the Governor, not MDOT. The Governor would get to choose which bridges to be repaired from a list prepared by the State Aid Engineer, but would have total discretion to choose projects that “support economic development.”
 
Notably, most of the money going into the fund would not be available to spend until the next Governor takes office.
 
There is an extraordinary policy provision in the bill that would shift from MDOT to the Governor approval authority for all future right-of-way acquisitions for the state highway program. 
 
Reeves’ bill also creates another new fund called the “Strategic Infrastructure Investment Fund.”  The Governor would control expenditures from this fund too. Initial state funding would be limited to revenues generated by a new tax on electric and hybrid vehicles. But the fund could potentially access millions from the $1.5 trillion infrastructure program proposed by President Donald Trump.
 
Altogether, this could provide extraordinary discretionary money and power for the next Governor.
 
Could.
 
Reeve’s five-year funding scheme is imaginary not only because of the many existing sources he taps to capture funds, but also because much of it may be illusory. The projected rainy day fund transfers depend on annual state revenues exceeding expenditures by 2% of the total budget. That hasn’t happened in recent years.
 
There is no certainty that President Trump’s turn-$200-billion-into-$1.5-trillion infrastructure scheme will come true either. Even if it does, it may not be suitable for Mississippi to do much. As proposed, states would have to match each federal dollar four-to-one.
 
Also, another $125 million projected to fund a new Municipal Sales Tax Diversion Infrastructure Fund will only occur in years when state sales tax collections exceed the prior year’s by 1%. That’s another iffy prospect. Growing online sales and retail store closures have been slowing sales tax growth. Sales tax collections for 2017 were flat compared to 2016.
 
It will be interesting to see how the House and its burgeoning autocratic leader, Speaker Philip Gunn, react. Will they want to put so much money and power into the hands of the next Governor (Reeves is the well-funded favorite)? Will they want to sign on to a $1.1 billion scheme that may actually generate far less money?
 
Still and all, it could happen. All the money could come true, Reeves could become governor, and infrastructure spending bliss could descend upon the parts of Mississippi he favors.
 
Hard to bet against autocrats these days.
 
 
» BILL CRAWFORD (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.
 

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One comment

  1. Thanks for your reporting Bill. Reeves is apparently planning to spend money wildly that MS doesn’t have which is contrary to his professed beliefs of fiscal conservatism (I guess his beliefs change when he has the power and can get his hands on the money to dole out to reward his cronies). He needs to be cutting spending since MS doesn’t have the tax base. I can’t pay the taxes for the repair or building new bridges and roads on my meager income; he needs to tax the corporations that use those bridges and roads to pay for the infrastructure they use.

    The tax on electric vehicles will not bring in any money since there a very few in MS and not likely to be due the tax being disproportionately high on electric vehicles as compared to the gasoline tax. The relatively higher tax will discourage Mississippians from purchasing electric vehicles and MS will fall further behind the rest of the nation in moving into the future. Just another ploy to keep Mississippi in the good ole days of coal and petroleum in order for the governor and legislature to reward their political donors. Still stuck in crony capitalism and colonialism.

    The current unwise fiscal conservatism of regressive tax policy and corporate tax cuts and resulting loss of state revenue to provide essential services only begets more spiral down economics as not enough revenue comes in to pay for essential services resulting in further cuts in spending and less services. Proper investments must be made to sustain and grow an economy. The economy is based on 70% consumerism. If the consumers have been squeezed by loss of jobs and lower wages, business won’t be able to sell products and services and the economy will stagnate. Tax policy must be revised to raise wages and rebuild the middle class in order to provide the engine to grow the economy. Economy 101. Industry and businesses can’t sell products if no one has the money to buy.

    To get the Mississippi economy going the legislature should revise the tax program to increase income taxes on a progressive scale for the wealthy in MS, reduce the sales tax to 5% to be less regressive on the poor, mandate a minimum wage of $20 to regain wage value losses due to inflation over the last 30 years, increase corporate taxes on profits to equal the personal tax rates, and increase taxes on passive income to equal personal income tax rates. Adjusting taxes in this manner would encourage all people to “work” for a living. To encourage new business, a better work force is needed; so education should be fully funded through taxes and community colleges and state colleges should be tuition free. In addition, new startup small business profits should be tax free for the first 3 years in order to assist them with becoming successfully established.

    Too much of MS’ taxes have been given as bribes through tax breaks and associated public infrastructure to big corporations in order to lure them to come to MS. The payback in jobs and taxes has not been worth it. These corporations have not been MS owned and based, and the products are sold elsewhere, hardly doing anything to really grow the MS economy as the majority of the money goes back out of state. It should be recognized that businesses and industry will come to MS without taxpayer incentives when there is a demand for their products and services and they can thus make a profit. That demand has to be created by growing the purchasing power of all of the people of MS. That will require a well educated workforce and increased labor wages. It is a long-term growth process, but must be started now to build a better future.

    We have now had 30 years of good, solid Republican control of the governors office and the legislature to figure out how to balance the tax system and public services, but MS is still last in almost every category of economic income and wealth, education, health, and quality of life. We won’t have improvement in the MS economy until we elect some new leadership that better understands economics, the imperative of excellent public education, and are less concerned with pursuing subtle racial discrimination, control of women’s bodies, more guns, gerrymandering and repression of voting, and religious bigotry against U.S. constitutional protections of the individual rights.

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