Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, revealed some interesting figures in a column Sunday about the jockeying under way in the Legislature over highway, road and bridge funding.
According to his calculations, sales tax revenue in Mississippi grew about 156% between 1989 and 2019. Revenue from the state income tax increased 365%.
Meanwhile, during the same period, revenue from the 18.4 cent per gallon motor fuel tax grew nearly 40 percent, far less than the other revenue streams.
Harrison pointed out that the gasoline/diesel tax provides more than half of state funding for the Department of Transportation, and it is not growing fast enough to keep up with inflation as vehicles are getting better mileage and some are switching to electricity.
Common sense would dictate that the motor fuel tax should be increased at least enough to partially keep up with inflation. It should have been increased years ago.
Conservatives in the House who are promoting raising the sales tax on just about everything but groceries — thank goodness they want to lower that tax — say they favor taxing consumption instead of incomes.
Well, the fuel tax is a consumer tax or it could be called a use tax. Moreover, people from out of state going through Mississippi on the highway system help pay it when and if they stop and buy fuel.
Rather than just raise the fuel tax, the governors and legislatures, past and present, have tried other ways to fund road and bridge maintenance.
In a 2018 special session, when they enacted a state lottery, they dedicated the first $80 million of that revenue annually for state highway work. This was far short of the $300 million studies showed was needed for highway work at the time.
Now a bill has made its way through the Senate that would transfer that money to the local level to help pay for roads and bridges impacted by legislation in the same bill raising the weight limits on big trucks.
No question the local roads and bridges being beat up by log trucks and ice storms need a lot of work.
I drove on some rural roads in four south Mississippi counties over the weekend and found some terrible ones in each county. In one area, where there is a lot of logging, a couple of roads were nearly impassable.
Harrison predicts that a “fight over the lottery revenue, pitting state roads and bridges against local roads and bridges, will play out during the final days of the legislative session.”
What they should do is just raise the fuel tax to a reasonable level and also figure out a way to require those operating electric vehicles who also use the roads to pay their fair share of the cost of maintaining them. There will be more electric-powered cars in the future.
And Mississippi, like the majority of other states, should accept the big dollars the federal government would send us to expand Medicaid to cover the working poor, a move that would improve health care, boost the economy and possibly save some rural hospitals.
Both of the above, of course, would require some common sense. And, as Manchin said about Washington, there's not an overabundance of that at the state Capitol
Charlie Dunagin is editor and publisher emeritus of the McComb Enterprise-Journal. He lives in Oxford.