DALLAS -- Mississippi lawmakers will consider raising the state’s gasoline tax after the state Senate kept a proposal alive last week by adopting a place-holding measure that faces a reluctant state House.
Senate Bill 2921 is the sole survivor from several proposals introduced in the current session that would have raised Mississippi’s current fuel taxes of 18.8 cents per gallon of gasoline and 18.4 cents per gallon of diesel for the first time since 1987.
The gas tax bill was passed by the Senate, 34 to 13, and sent to the House, which is expected to amend the measure in time for a compromise bill to be considered before the regular session ends April 24. Republicans hold 32 of the 52 Senate seats and 74 of the 122 House posts.
The proposal incorporates the relevant portions of the state tax code but in its current form does not provide additional money for the Mississippi Department of Transportation. The maneuver will allow lawmakers to work out their differences on the specifics of the road funding proposal in the final weeks of the session, said Scott Waller, executive vice president the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC).
“While the legislation in its current form doesn't increase funding, passage does keep all options open to legislators for finding a common-sense solution to deal with the almost 4,000 deficient bridges at the state and local level, and to address poor pavement conditions statewide,” Waller said.
The MEC proposed a road funding plan in December that would raise $300 million per year for state transportation infrastructure projects and $75 million for local roads.
The MEC did not specify a favored funding method but said lawmakers should consider higher fuel taxes, a sales tax on fuel, and registration fees. The group said each 1 cent increase in the state gasoline tax would generate $21.7 million a year, while a 5% state sales tax on motor fuels would bring in an additional $178 million per year. A $10 increase in the license tag fee would generate $27.5 million per year.
The MEC highway report said overall transportation needs include $2.23 billion to repair the state highway system and another $2.63 billion to upgrade 191 of the state’s 936 bridges that are weight limited. Repairing almost 3,000 local bridges would require another $1.14 billion.
The amended version of the Senate gas tax proposal could include a bond package for community colleges, said Sen. Hob Bryan.
“The idea is to get one big huge conference report with enough provisions in it so it will pull all of this through on its own,” Bryan said.
Melinda McGrath, executive director of the Mississippi DOT, told legislators that the state needs $526 million per year of additional transportation funding over the next 10 to 15 years to replace deficient bridges and bring roads to a good condition.
The road funding situation is an emergency, she said in testimony to House and Senate committees.
“For the past four years, Mississippi DOT has been fighting to address the maintenance needs of existing roadways while putting almost all new construction on hold. The situation is dire,” McGrath said. “The fuel tax has no mechanism to account for inflation and has not been adjusted in almost 30 years. Meanwhile, the cost of road construction has increased over 300%.”
Two House bills that would have increased transportation funding were still in committee at the deadline for legislative revenue proposals.
One measure would have increased the fuels tax to 20 cent per gallon while the other would have lowered the tax to 15 cents per gallon with levying a 6% sales tax at the wholesale level.