Senate infrastructure proposal has to cross several deadline hurdles in House
There will likely be some sort of plan for infrastructure signed into law this year, but what final form it will take is anyone's guess.
On the Senate side, speed was the name of the game. A day after Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves unveiled his infrastructure plan known as the Building Roads, Improving Development, Growing the Economy or BRIDGE Act sailed through the Senate and is now in the hands of the House. The bill passed on a 36-14 vote.
The bill was authored by Senate Finance Commitee Chairman Joey Fillingane (R-Sumrall) and Transportation Chairman Willie Simmons (D-Cleveland).
The first deadline for the Senate plan is March 13, the deadline for floor action for appropriation and revenue bills originating from the other chamber. A conference committee would then find a possible compromise, which would need to be complete by March 27.
The BRIDGE Act —which Reeves said could add up to $1.1 billion over five years — would create several bond issues, including:
$60 million for local bridge replacement and repair.
$20 million for grants to municipalities for street and other infrastructure repair.
An increase from $29.8 million to $32.8 million in bonds for improvements to rural water districts, plus $5 million for the emergency repair fund.
$10 million for small municipalities and counties with small populations.
$7.5 million for bonds for railroads.
$5 million for communities seeking Federal matching funds for pollution control projects.
"The BRIDGE Act addresses the needs of our state without raising anybody's taxes," Reeves said in a news release. "Building and maintaining infrastructure is a core function of government. We've developed a responsible plan that balances the needs of our local governments and the marketplace."
Two special funds created by the bill has officials from the Mississippi Department of Transportation fuming because the governor would have control over both rather than MDOT's three elected commissioners. The bill would create a fund called the Economic Development and Emergency Bridge Repair Fund that would provide funds for bridge repair on streets and highways, especially those repairs important for economic development.
Another fund to help finance the state component of projects with federal matching funds would also be created.
MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath told Mississippi News Now that MDOT's three elected commissioners already do a good job of ensuring that taxpayer funds are spent wisely and equally.
The Economic Development and Emergency Bridge Repair Fund would be created with $125 million over the next five years that would be taken from the state highway fund, which is administered by MDOT, and receive up to 1 percent of any surplus in the general fund this fiscal year and 2 percent in the following four fiscal years.
The governor would administer the money and projects would be selected by the State Aid Engineer, who runs the Office of State Aid Road Construction.
The governor would be advised on the bridge projects by an advisory board made up of leaders from the Mississippi Economic Council, Mississippi Manufacturers Association, the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, the Mississippi Poultry Association, the Mississippi Trucking Association, the Mississippi Association of Supervisors and the Mississippi Municipal League.
There are several road projects included in the bill such as Kemper (State Highway 16), Madison (Reunion Parkway), DeSoto (Holly Springs Road) and Rankin (East Metro Corridor and Gunter Road) counties. The bill would also provide funding through bonds to build a landing dock for Bolivar County on the Mississippi River, repair the seawalls on the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Rankin and Madison counties and improve Greenville's water and sewer system.
The bill would also create a committee to study public/private partnerships that could help improve the state's infrastructure.
Missing from the bill is any gasoline tax increase. The only tax increase is a levy a $150 annually on owners of electric vehicles in addition to registration fees, with hybrid vehicle owners assessed $75 annually. This money would be a pittance according to data from cleantechnia.com for sales from 2011 to 2016.
While 20 states including California, Georgia, Washington and New York have dominated sales of battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric and fuel cell electric vehicles from 2011 to 2016, sales of those vehicles in the other 30 states during that same span only added up to 47,313, or about 1,577 per state
The House passed a couple of bills that could aid in the repair and replacement of deficient local bridges. House Bill 357 would create a $50 million bond issue for bridge repairs, was passed by the House and is the hands of the Senate Finance Committee. HB 722 would direct 15 percent of the state's use tax revenues for work on local bridges and it also passed the House and is being considered by the Senate Finance Committee.