A bandaid plan

Mississippi’s roads and bridges are in bad shape and getting worse. The state needs $375 million to $400 million a year extra to try to deal with this problem. The tax on fuel, which has historically paid for such repairs, hasn’t been raised in three decades, even while the cost of making these repairs has tripled.

This isn’t complicated.

Raise the fuel tax, and raise it enough to cover the bill.

Still, the Republican leadership in Mississippi, either anti-tax zealots themselves or cowed by them, keeps ignoring the obvious.

Recently Sen. Dean Kirby, a Republican member of that chamber’s Highways and Transportation Committee, floated his proposal. It’s a lot better than Gov. Phil Bryant’s idea — pay for the repairs and replacement with a state lottery that would take advantage of people’s weaknesses, and especially hurt the poor and working class — but it’s still inadequate.

Kirby proposes raising the tax on gasoline and diesel by just 1.5 cents a gallon, or eight percent. Considering that inflation has run more than 200 percent since the last time the tax was adjusted in 1987, an eight-percent increase would only catch Mississippi’s fuel tax up to about where it should have been in 1989. We’d still be 28 years behind.

Instead of a straightforward, inflation-adjusted increase in the fuel tax, Kirby wants to add fees, which are just an excise tax by another, supposedly more palatable name. He would add $2.50 per automobile tire purchased, and create a new fee for hybrid and electric cars, ranging from $75 to $150 annually.

The fee on hybrids and electrics is a decent idea, as it takes into account future trends in automotive manufacturing, but it will take a long time before this adds up to any serious money in Mississippi.

Kirby’s whole plan seems to be on the light side, revenue-wise. When he unveiled it Monday at a press function in Jackson, no figure was reported as to how much money the entire package would supposedly raise. Our guess is it would be nowhere close to the $375 to $400 million a year needed.

Plus, the senator from Pearl wants to let his fellow lawmakers off the hook by putting his plan to a statewide referendum. What do we need a Legislature for if it can’t perform one of its main responsibilities for existing: finding the money to pay for identifiable, fundamental public needs, such as roads and bridges? Why don’t we just run the entire government by popular vote?

We shouldn’t be too hard on Kirby. At least he’s offering a plan, unlike some of his fellow GOP lawmakers who have their head in the sand about the road and bridge problems.

Still, if Mississippi is going to head off this infrastructure crisis, it needs to do it correctly. That means enacting enough of a fuel tax increase — 15 to 20 cents a gallon — to make a difference.

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