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Four graphs show why a gas tax hike isn't needed for Mississippi

For a third consecutive year, advocates of increasing the state's gasoline tax for the purpose of repairing roads and bridges are trying to convince the Mississippi Legislature to force citizens to pay more at the pump.

Here's four graphs that show that a gasoline tax increase isn't needed for Mississippi:

Stagnant population

Since 1987 — when the gasoline tax was last increased to 18.4 cents per gallon to help pay for a massive four-lane highway project — the state's population has largely been stagnant, increasing from more than 2.5 million to 2.98 million.

That's an increase of 19.2 percent. In the same timespan:

  • Alabama's population has grown 21.1 percent from 4.01 million in 1987 to 4.86 million in 2016.

  • South Carolina's population has exploded by 46.7 percent from 3.38 million to 4.96 million.

  • The population of Arkansas has increased by 27.3 percent, growing from 2.34 million to 2.98 million

  • The nation's population as a whole has grown 33 percent, going from 242 million to 323 million.

Vehicle miles traveled

Despite a stagnant population, Mississippians aren't driving as much as they once did. According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, annual vehicle miles traveled was on a downward trend in Mississippi from 2008 to 2012. Nationally, the trend has been downward as well, shrinking from 4.8 million in 2005 to 3.04 million in 2014.

Gasoline tax collections

While Mississippians are traveling less, gasoline tax collections have been relatively consistent since 2006, according to data from the Mississippi Department of Revenue. Not all of the tax collected goes to MDOT to build and maintain the state's highways, as the State Aid Road Program and counties receive a share of the revenue as well.

The large increase from 2014 to 2016 is a product of changes to the way the DOR calculates the annual total of gasoline tax collections.

Maintenance versus new construction

The biggest percentage of MDOT's most recent budget allocation is for construction, not for maintenance. More than $793 million of MDOT's budget, which is funded by federal funds and gasoline tax revenues, was spent on new construction, which is often the complete rebuilding of a badly damaged section of state highway or interstate.

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