Delta leaders want better maintenance for state roadsBy TIM KALICH,
There’s only one way that Mississippi is going to be able to raise the revenue it will take to sufficiently fix its deteriorating roads and bridges.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves will have to lose his bid to be Mississippi’s next governor.
Reeves made it plain at the annual meeting of Delta Council that if he is elected to succeed Gov. Phil Bryant, he will be just as unbending — and maybe more so — than Bryant has been on this issue.
Reeves and Bryant sat within feet of the program’s two main speakers — Woods Eastland, the outgoing president of Delta Council, and David Abney, the Delta-raised chairman and CEO of United Parcel Service. The Republican pair heard the two speakers voice support for raising the fuel tax as the only sustainable way to reverse the deterioration of the state’s roads and bridges. They heard the audience of farmers and businesspeople applaud Abney when he said his global company, which spends a fortune on fuel, is unequivocally in favor of raising the gas tax, not only at the state level but at the federal level, too.
Yet, Reeves and Bryant weren’t budging a lick.
When I asked them afterward if anything they heard from Eastland and Abney had changed their thinking on the fuel tax, neither hesitated.
“Not at all,” answered Bryant.
“I continue to oppose raising the gas tax, and I plan to continue to oppose it,” echoed Reeves.
Bryant is on his last seven months as governor, so his opinion doesn’t count all that much at this point. Even if he were to have a complete about-face, it would be too late to get anything done in this election year.
But Reeves, who is presently considered the odds-on-favorite to win the governor’s race, could be in the Governor’s Mansion for the next eight years. If past is prologue, he is not inclined to change a policy position once he has dug in his heels, no matter who is asking him to.
The business community — as represented by both Delta Council and the Mississippi Economic Council — has been petitioning the legislature for years to raise the gas tax as the only equitable and realistic way to come up with enough money for long enough to address the billions of dollars worth of deferred maintenance and repair of the state’s transportation infrastructure. Their pleas have been largely ignored.
Reeves talks about the 2018 special session of the Legislature in which lawmakers earmarked for transportation $200 million a year for the next five years from internet sales taxes and a still-to-be-started lottery. Critics say the legislation is actually not going to produce that much new money, but even if it did, that’s still less than half of what it will take to catch up after years of neglect.
Abney says correctly that poor roads and bridges cost companies dearly. If UPS’ fleet of 125,000 delivery trucks in the United States spend just an extra five minutes a day on the road because of traffic congestion, he said, that adds up to $114 million in additional costs over a year’s time.
Deficient roads and bridges also cost individuals, whose cars get beat up by potholes, or who burn more gasoline when they have to detour around roads and bridges that are closed.
Reeves thinks that although Abney and others in the business world may do the math, individual motorists — and thus the majority of voters — don’t. He thinks they don’t understand the simple economics of inflation: namely, how the dollar has less than half the purchasing power today than it did in 1987, when the gas tax was set at 18.4 cents per gallon, where it still remains. He thinks they don’t realize that when adjusted for inflation, the price of gasoline for most of the past decade has been as cheap as it has ever been.
Reeves’ stand on the gas tax is just like his stand on expanding Medicaid. No matter how much economic sense either makes, no matter how badly the Delta and other rural parts of Mississippi need both, he’s against them because he believes that those positions — plus oodles of campaign cash — will get him elected.
Bill Waller Jr. in the Republican primary or Democrat Jim Hood in the general election will see if Reeves is reading the people correctly. The Delta should hope he’s not.
Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.