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BILL CRAWFORD — Mississippi ignores conservative way to tax

BILL CRAWFORD

As you lurch over another crevice in your favorite rural highway, here are some facts you can use to dull your senses. That apparently works for our state leaders.

Mississippi has the third lowest gas tax rate among the 50 states. The lowest is Alaska at 14.4 cents per gallon. Second is Missouri at 17.4 cents. Then comes Mississippi at 18.4 cents.

Mississippi established this rate in 1987 and it hasn’t moved since. Only Alaska has stood still on gas rates longer, last raising its rate 50 years ago.

Rates have moved in neighboring states, however, two just this past September and one the year before.

Alabama, in September, began phasing in a 10 cent per gallon increase, adding 6 cents to hit 24 cents per gallon this year. When fully phased in at 28 cents, Alabama would rank just behind Tennessee at 22nd lowest.

Also in September, Arkansas raised its rate to 24.5 cents per gallon. At this level, Arkansas has the 17th lowest rate.

A year ago, Tennessee raised its rate to 27.4 cents per gallon. At this level Tennessee has the 21st lowest rate.

Standing still with Mississippi, so far, is Louisiana which established its 20 cent per gallon rate 29 years ago. That rate is the 8th lowest in the nation.

The average rate nationally on gasoline is just under 32 cents per gallon. Twenty-two states have rates higher than that.

Studies by the Mississippi Economic Council showed Mississippi needed at least $375 million more per year for 10 years to fix the worst of its crumbling roads and bridges. The total needed to put our transportation in good shape was projected at over $6 billion.

So far, state leaders are trying to cheap their way out of this dilemma.

The new lottery tax may provide $80 million a year for 10 years, a total of $800 million. The legislature provided one time bond money of $300 million for road and bridge repairs plus 35% of the new 7% “use tax” on internet out-of-state sales to local governments for bridge repairs. The use tax diversion could generate about $120 million per year or $1.2 billion over 10 years. All that adds up to an estimated $2.3 billion over 10 years.

If all these estimates come true that still leaves a shortfall of over $3.5 billion compared to total needs and about $1.45 billion compared to dire needs.

State Auditor Shad White recently audited the Mississippi Department of Transportation. His  clean audit report suggested MDOT could redirect millions toward road and bridge construction if it streamlined operations. Those millions amount to about $15 million per year or $150 million over 10 years. Good savings but a smidge of what’s needed.

The conservative way to fund roads and bridges is through user taxes, i.e. the gas tax. Using bonds, gambling revenues, and sales tax diversions puts an unfair burden on many taxpayers, particularly the elderly, and robs money from needy general fund programs.

Most Republican controlled states understand the conservative way to tax, but not Mississippi.

“That’s also why you pay taxes – so that an orderly way of life can be maintained” – Romans 13:7 (MSG).

» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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