Mississippi House Speaker Phillip Gunn

Mississippi is not the only state struggling with transportation needs, according to a report by the Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee.

The report released this week cites the National Conference of State Legislatures as saying states have been in “a near constant state of crisis for about a decade” in terms of funding for transportation needs. The report cited the American Society of Civil Engineers as saying the nation as a whole faces major transportation issues.

The report by PEER, which provides oversight responsibilities for the Mississippi Legislature, goes on to say since 2013 that 26 states plus the District of Columbia “have enacted legislation that will increase or may increase their overall gasoline taxes.”

Most states depend on the motor fuel tax on gasoline and diesel as the primary source of state funding for their transportation needs.

Despite what most agree are critical transportation needs on both the state and local levels, increasing the 18.4 cent per gallon tax on motor fuel has been a non-starter for the Mississippi Legislature.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, has proposed increasing the tax by 8 cents per gallon while at the same time lowering the income tax. The move would provide additional funds for transportation while reducing funds for other vital services, such as education, public health and law enforcement.

But even that effort has been met with resistance.

“I am a Republican. I am a conservative. I am against raising the gas tax,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said of Gunn’s plan.

Mississippi’s 18.4 cent per gallon gasoline tax is fourth lowest in the nation as of January, according to 24/7 Wall St., an online news source. Mississippi’s is lower than that of its four contiguous states, though, their levies also are among the lowest in the nation.

Tennessee has the highest rate of the four states touching Mississippi at 25.4 cents per gallon or the 32nd highest in the nation. Gunn’s proposal would put Mississippi’s rate slightly higher than that of Tennessee.

The highest rate is Pennsylvania at 58.7 cents per gallon followed by California at 58.7 cents per gallon.

The three states lower than Mississippi are Alaska at 12.3 cents; Oklahoma at 17 cents and Missouri at 17.4 cents per gallon.

The Mississippi tax generated $303.8 million in revenue for the last fiscal year for the Department of Transportation. The agency receives 70 percent of the state’s fuel tax revenue with the remainder going for State Aid, which is a program that provides state money to counties for transportation needs; and to rail programs and to a few other programs.

The tax has not been changed since 1987. Part of the problem, officials say, is that the tax has not been a growing source of revenue. While the number of vehicles on the roads has increased significantly since 1987, they get much better gas mileage.

Gunn’s plan called for indexing the tax where it would grow with inflation.

The 8 cent per gallon increase would generate an additional $160 million.

— Bobby Harrison / Daily Journal