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Mississippi Legislature deserves kudos for imperfect infrastructure solution

BUILD IT: A new infrastructure bill will help modernize Mississippi roads and bridges. Photo by the Mississippi Department of Transportation

I have come to praise the Mississippi Legislature, not to bury it. At least this once.

In a week-long special session, the Legislature did what it couldn't do during the regular session: Pass a bill that deals with the state's infrastructure woes without raising gasoline taxes. In addition, they managed to pass a bill that instituted a state lottery and finally resolve a long-simmering controversy over the BP oil spill settlement.

For once, taxpayers got their money's worth out of the hundreds of thousands of dollars it cost to bring legislators back to Jackson.

The $200 million infrastructure bill isn't perfect, but will at least redirect some of the use tax revenue (35 percent) split between cities and counties to help with infrastructure. The way they chose to split up this revenue gives bigger municipalities more money while making sure smaller cities aren't forgotten as well.

The county split was also well executed, with counties with lots of rural road miles getting more money.

The state will also borrow $300 million, with $250 million for the Mississippi Department of Transportation and $50 million for local infrastructure not administered by MDOT.

This should go a long way to addressing issues with local bridges and roads. It also disarms a potential campaign issue for legislators, as polls have consistently shown that fixing the state's infrastructure problems was a top issue for voters.

The big winner in all of this is Gov. Phil Bryant and the Republican super majority. The governor convinced Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn to put their differences aside after both had competing infrastructure bills pass their respective chambers, only to fail across the rotunda.

The infrastructure bill wasn't the only bill passed during what was one of the most productive special sessions in state history.

A lottery isn't the best thing to happen to Mississippi, but it isn't the worst either. Instituting a lottery just means that Powerball players won't have to cross into Louisiana to buy tickets when the jackpot spikes into the hundreds of millions of dollars realm.

Never mind the fact that you have a better chance of encountering Elvis and Jim Morrison at the Flora-Bama than you have of picking the winning numbers.

The BP settlement is about as good as a compromise as can be expected. The Coast gets most of the money and the rest of the state gets some revenue, as it should be.

There is still long-term work to be done on infrastructure. Every year, fuel efficiency for vehicles increases, which hurts states when it comes to the gasoline tax because less demand means less tax revenue.

The Legislature started this process with the only tax increase in the infrastructure bill aimed at owners of hybrid and electric vehicles, which use the roads and pay less for maintenance and new construction.

Hybrid owners will pay an additional $75 when they register their vehicles annually, while owners of electrics will pay $150.

The Legislature will need to come up to a solution for MDOT down the road, pun intended, that will fund maintenance and needed projects.

The solution could take the form of a vehicle miles traveled tax (privacy concerns), toll roads or some other method yet to be determined. Gasoline tax revenues are now static or even shrinking as vehicles become more fuel-efficient and the Legislature needs to get out of front of this with haste.

Bryant, Reeves and Gunn did an excellent job herding cats with the Legislature to patch the leak and get the state's infrastructure back above water. Anything less could've led to a painful November for Republicans come election season.

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