BRADENTON, Fla. - A half-cent sales tax increase is among the recommendations a Mississippi Senate highway committee is considering to increase revenues for road and bridge maintenance.

Another measure that may be reviewed is changing the state's 18.4 cents per-gallon gas tax to a percentage per gallon to capture increased revenues as the price of gas goes up, according to the Mississippi Business Journal.

Only 68% of money generated by the gas tax goes to the Mississippi Department of Transportation. And in years past state lawmakers have dipped into the transportation budget to fund other needs, the journal said.

The state needs $400 million for current road and bridge upkeep, and another $300 million annually after that, MDOT Central District Commissioner Dick Hall said.

Some committee members also want to ensure that any new, dedicated road and bridge funding is shared with cities and counties. Their recommendations will be forwarded to the Legislature in January.

The idea for a dedicated sales tax is modeled after a half-cent, 10-year sales tax approved by voters in Arkansas in November 2012.

The tax went into effect July 1, and supports a $1.8 billion highway construction bond program, according to the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. As part of the program, cities and counties will receive $700 million from a state sales tax revenue-sharing program.

The Mississippi Senate committee's study is nearing completion as a national transportation research group reports that 28% of the state's roads are in "poor or mediocre condition."

Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit TRIP also estimates that Mississippi roads that "lack some desirable safety features, have inadequate capacity to meet travel demands, or have poor pavement conditions cost the state's residents approximately $1.6 billion annually" in vehicle operating costs, lost time, and wasted fuel due to traffic congestion and crashes.

Making needed improvements to roads, highways and bridges could provide a significant boost to the state's economy by creating jobs in the short term and stimulating long-term economic growth as a result of enhanced mobility and access, the report said.

"Without a substantial boost in federal, state and local highway funding, numerous projects to improve the condition and expand the capacity of Mississippi's roads, highways and bridges will not be able to proceed, hampering the state's ability to improve the condition of its transportation system and to enhance economic development opportunities in the state," the TRIP report concluded.

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