House Transportation chairman Rep. Charles Busby (R-Pascagoula) is touring the state with representatives from the Department of Transportation to review the condition of Mississippi’s roads and bridges. Busby is being joined by a few of his colleagues in the House along the way, setting up what could be the legislative showdown to watch in 2017 with groups on all sides of the infrastructure debate seemingly already entrenched, from the Mississippi Economic Council to Americans for Prosperity.
Busby posted this on his Facebook page Monday which caused a bit of stir.
The line “It’s time Mississippi!” is what keyed a variety of folks to question what Busby was meaning.
Time for what? A tax increase?
That’s where minds went when you review the comments, and the majority of responses were not pleased with the notion.
In fact, most seemed more apt to seek an audit of MDOT or to slash other budget or bonding items, such as museum and aquarium projects, state funded travel outside of Mississippi, or rescinding the recent tax cuts.
I asked Busby what he meant by the “It’s time Mississippi!” phrase. He responded saying, “It’s time that we address our roads and bridges before we dig ourselves into a hole that will financially overwhelm our state.”
As a follow up I mentioned that some were assuming he meant this must be done by a tax increase. Busby said, “It has to be addressed either by efficiency gains, redirecting current revenue or increasing revenue, or a combination, but it’s got to be done.”
Russ Latino, State Director for Americans for Prosperity, commented on Busby’s post, writing, “Since Republicans took the Legislature in 2011, funding to MDOT has increased by 45% (per Lt. Gov. Reeves this morning). Going back further, for FY1998, the Legislature appropriated $721 million to MDOT. Fast forward to FY2017. The Legislature just appropriated $1.329 billion. Just because a rate doesn’t change doesn’t mean the amount being spent hasn’t changed.”
Former state senator Melanie Sojourner added, “Way past time to address our infrastructure needs. It can be done with existing funds as well if the waste and non-essentials are cut out. NO new taxes!”, echoing others who were opposed to increasing taxes in whatever form, gas or otherwise.
Busby said he plans to hold hearings on this subject, noting, “This subject deserves a more comprehensive discussion.”
One thing is for sure – as an engineer by trade Busby is well equipped to handle this issue in terms of addressing the realities at hand, yet, as with everything in the Capitol, politics often trumps practicality, no matter on which side of the aisle you may reside.
Busby faces an unenviable task as House Transportation chairman in the months and even years ahead. Whatever actions he chooses to recommend to address the state’s failing infrastructure, whether it be auditing MDOT, increasing the gas tax, shifting funds and priorities within MDOT or reallocating monies from other agencies, he will make a large swath of taxpayers and special interests upset along the way.
Republicans wanted the reins of the Legislature. The voters obliged. It’s time to have some difficult discussions, make hard choices, and put forth a plan that can solve this issue.
Politically speaking, if Republicans fail to tackle this issue head on and instead continue to kick the can down the road Democrats will hang this around their necks come 2019. Truth be told, Republicans have already given Democrats enough campaign fodder; state infrastructure should not be added to that list.
A true bipartisan effort should be undertaken with Busby at the helm. He’s capable and ready it would appear. He just needs the go ahead from his chamber’s leadership.
Longtime political consultant Hayes Dent, skilled at cutting through the rhetoric and funneling issues into terms of practical governance, summed it up this way on Busby’s Facebook post, “It’s one thing to be in charge, another thing altogether to solve these problems.”
It’s time we solved this problem, Mississippi, and Republicans can if they will.