Was that a kinder, gentler Tate Reeves emerging from the recently concluded special session of the Mississippi Legislature?
Reeves said the public should note the session’s bipartisan goodwill, wrote the AP’s Emily Wagster Pettus in a wrap-up story last week.
Goodwill between the House and Senate much less bipartisan goodwill have not been at the forefront of Reeves’ political agenda during his two terms as Lieutenant Governor.
A hint of the new Reeves appeared just ahead of the special session. He backed off the highly controversial road and bridge proposal he had rushed through the Senate during the regular session – one that required local matching funds – to generally accept a House plan he had rejected during that regular session.
“Many of these items were House proposals during the regular session, many if not most,” he told Mississippi Today in regard to the pre-session agreement he reached with House Speaker Philip Gunn. “I think this is definitely a step in fixing one of our most challenging issues.”
Reeves had been under the gun (no pun intended) to agree to a road and bridge plan. He also has been subjected to criticism for his heavy-handed and partisan control of the Senate.
Following this year’s regular session when he killed the House’s road and bridge bill, Gunn’s lieutenants actually accused Reeves of being heavy-handed and not letting senators freely negotiate with the House, as reported by the Clarion-Ledger.
In response, Reeves said the House often attempted to spend more tax dollars on pet projects or incur more state debt than he was willing to accept.
However, the new Reeves just allowed debt and pet projects to flow through the special session, mostly for senators’ pet projects. New debt of $50 million authorized during the special session will help fund a “Christmas Tree” of $111 million in pet projects.
It appears Reeves along with Gunn and Gov. Phil Bryant will lead the parade of elected officials touting this special session as the much needed cure to our escalating road and bridge crisis.
Regrettably, it’s more a band aid than a cure.
The MEC Excelerate Mississippi program has documented the state has over $6 billion of unfunded road and bridge repairs. The program recommended increasing annual funding to MDOT by $300 million and to cities and counties by $75 million to make a serious dent in this problem over a 10-year period.
What the special session provided for MDOT was up to $80 million a year from the new state lottery once it is fully phased in plus new sports betting taxes of about $5 million. It also authorizes new one-time debt of $250 million for emergency road and bridge repairs. All this is far below the $300 million needed annually.
The special session did provide up to $120 million a year to cities and counties for local road and bridge repairs (plus water and sewer for cities). This will occur as the diversion of 35% of use taxes phases in over four years. (Use taxes are collected on out-of-state sales, now including Internet sales.)
While a kinder and gentler Reeves and fixes to local roads and bridges may be good things, letting most of the 24,591 miles of state highways in need of repair continue to crumble is not a good thing.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicate columnist from Meridian.
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