Lawmakers head back to the Capitol tomorrow for a special session to address the increasing concerns that surround the state’s major infrastructure needs.
On Tuesday, Governor Phil Bryant issued a proclamation to create the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2018. The plan includes appropriating Use Tax dollars to cities and counties to address road and bridge needs, a new tax on electric and hybrid vehicle drivers, and the creation of a state lottery.
The Governor has repeated since the end of the regular session that he would not call a special session if an agreement was not made or incredibly close to being made between the House and Senate, and according to several members of both– that is right on track.
“I think it’s been very positive from my perspective in the House,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden.
He said in essence, the proposal is the same language as what was presented by the House in HB 722 during the regular session, a bill that was voted in favor of unanimously in the House. The bill would utilize an online Use Tax to be spread across the state specifically for infrastructure needs.
However, the Supreme Court did not officially rule on the legality of collecting a Use Tax until July, after the session ended.
“Once that decision was handed down from the Supreme Court, which made it legal to collect online sales and revenue taxes, it opened a doorway for a lot of what the House and Senate have been discussing,” said Senator Joey Fillingane. He said until then, the ability to take the Use tax was all in theory, and the decision of the Supreme Court removed that stumbling block.
Fillingane said he believes that was one of the biggest stumbling blocks for Senate members is to pass an infrastructure plan based on a theory, and not on a solid assurance that this use tax would be allowed.
Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves was adamant in the regular session to ensure that money was appropriated fairly and there was a system of transparency in place to ensure that what cities and counties received was being spent on roads and bridges. He said at this time he feels very good about the proposal and that there will be language in the bill that makes everyone comfortable with how much is allocated, and what potential match dollars would be.
Right now it’s looking like multiple bills will be presented to address all these needs, one most likely to originate in the house as the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2018 and Lottery bill.
Lt. Gov. Reeves said that he is of the impression that the lottery bill will originate in the Senate and if passed will move to the House. Speaker Philip Gunn has gone on the record before saying that he would not block the bill if members are inclined to pass it, as long as it is a good bill, but he has not been supportive of a lottery in the past.
“Based on my own study, i have concluded it is bad public policy and will not help our state. Over the last seven years, we’ve passed sound public policy. This does not fall in that category,” said Speaker Gunn.
Rep. Snowden said he believed the bill would pass, but he hopes house members and the public alike will look carefully at the economic impact that the bill could have on the state, and not just the revenue it could provide.
“I think it will pass, primarily because I think the majority of people want a lottery. But, I’m looking hard at the economics of a lottery and our previous analysis showed that the economic impact would be slightly negative, even though the revenue might slightly increase,” said Snowden.
He said it would be a mistake for Mississippians to think that a state lottery would bring a massive boost in revenue.
Once the transportation dollars and state lottery issues are decided, the conversation could then turn to the BP Oil money. While it is not an urgent matter and could wait until the regular session, if money was divided up among the state and not only sent to the three coastal counties, it could have an effect on immediate infrastructure needs.
“I think negotiations have gone very well, there is general agreement on a lot of things that the Governor has put in a call for… the devils in the details always,” said President Pro Temper Terry Burton. He said most of what is being talked about here isn’t exactly “new” information. These are things the House and Senate have proposed legislation on before. He believes Democrats and Republicans are working together to provide the right solution for the state’s infrastructure.
“Road and Bridge issues are not partisan. The need to get kids to school safely is not partisan… it’s about doing what is right,” said Lt. Gov. Reeves.
Reeves said the legislative process takes time and when you’re dealing with something like $200 million a year to pour into infrastructure needs across the state it takes a minute to work through the details to get it all right.