After the 2018 Legislative Session, lawmakers walked away from the Capitol with no agreement for a long term plan on infrastructure. While $50 million was appropriated to roads and bridges in a bond bill, neither the House nor Senate’s proposed infrastructure bills were passed.
Governor Phil Bryant announced earlier this week a state of emergency on over 80 locally owned roads and bridges. This comes after the U.S. Secretary of Transportation told the Governor that the state could be in jeopardy of losing federal funds if those bridges were not shut down immediately. Counties have been responsible for closing these locations up until now. With the announcement of a state of emergency the Mississippi Department of Transportation now has authority to close these locally owned bridges.
This leaves Mississippians once again faced with the question of how the state will fix a failing infrastructure.
Since the 2018 Legislative Session has concluded a possible solution could be resolved within a special session. When asked if he would call lawmakers back to the Capitol the Governor said he would only consider it if he felt like the House and Senate members were very close to an agreement.
“I met with the Speaker and Lt. Governor last week on the fifth of April and asked both of them to continue their work. There are plans that are available, there is a House plan and a Senate plan, if we can reach an agreement, if they believe they are close to an agreement I would certainly call them back for a special session to get that bill passed,” said Gov. Bryant.
While he wasn’t encouraging of discussions on tax increases, he said he believes they are being held on ideas for a reduce in income taxes to an equal level and increasing the fuel tax. He said he would support a discussion on that possibility if all members were in favor.
The option of a lottery is still one Gov. Bryant says he favors to help correct infrastructure needs.
“We’ve done a study on it, anywhere from $75 to $85 million a year. That won’t take care of all of it but I believe that’s a good place to start,” said Gov. Bryant. He said he felt confident that if brought to the House and Senate floor it would pass easily. He said he thinks it could be one of the options lawmakers are currently discussing now.
Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall sat in with the Governor as he announced the bridge closures and weighed in on why he does not think the option of a lottery will make a dent in repairing statewide infrastructure.
“The problem with a lottery is it just isn’t enough money to make a real difference. You take the money that it’s going to generate and split that among counties, MDOT, municipalities, MDOT alone needs somewhere between $350 and $400 million more a year. We may not come up with that in a moment, but we need a plan in place that is going to really energy that kind of money,” said Hall. But, while Hall called for a long-term plan he said they would back anything that would make some kind of difference.
Some federal decisions could be made in the near future within the new highway infrastructure bill the President has recommended that would require new matching funds from states. Gov. Bryant said they hope that President Trump will consider the problem something like an 80/20 match would cause in rural areas that are already struggling to fund infrastructure needs.
“We are working particularly with Secretary Chao to see what that match will look like, but if it is we need to be prepared to do our part,” said Gov. Bryant.
In short, it seems the possibility of a special session is still vague pending an agreement by the House and Senate on the best way to move forward in improving Mississippi’s major infrastructure dilemma.