The state's business leaders called on the Legislature to put together a plan to fund Mississippi's crumbling roads and bridges back in 2016. But after a patchwork bill died in committee, the Mississippi Economic Council is back to remind lawmakers that the state's infrastructure problem will get worse—not better—the longer they wait. And that's bad for business.
Most lawmakers know infrastructure is a problem, but many dodge the question of how to fund solutions. The MEC has recommended raising taxes, specifically user-based taxes on gas or car tags, as part of its $375-million-a-year plan to maintain and repair roads and bridges around the state.
Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, says lawmakers will have to look at tax and fee increases. House Speaker Philip Gunn is much more hesitant to admit that, pointing to conservative principles that got him and other lawmakers elected last week. He committed to "engaging" on transportation but made no further promises.
Kicking the can down a crumbling road will cost taxpayers more in the long run. It costs less to do preventative maintenance on roads and bridges than to completely repair them.
Last week, the governor and state leaders mentioned President-elect Donald Trump's promise to address infrastructure to avoid commitment to any plan. But that plan is far from a silver bullet, and it will cost taxpayers. Like Mississippi lawmakers, Congress will have a tough time swallowing tax increases to pay for national infrastructure problems, even if it's in the form of corporate welfare. And if Trump's half-billion-dollar tax-incentive plan works, it will rely heavily on the private sector to invest, which policy experts of both parties have difficulty accepting, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Mississippi's supermajority and the party in power in Congress fundamentally oppose tax and fee increases, so to bank on the feds approving tax credits for corporations but not wanting to consider tax increases themselves to help improve the state's roads is beyond disingenuous; it's contradictory.
Money for roads and bridges will have to come from somewhere, and MEC has conducted public polls that so far indicate that a majority of Mississippians actually support tax increases to fix infrastructure. Certainly, Mississippians would prefer spending fewer taxpayer dollars on infrastructure now than paying double that amount down the road.
Funding public infrastructure is a conservative idea, state leaders have said, but pretending that finding efficiencies in the Mississippi Department of Transportation's budget or extra cash flow elsewhere to the tune of $375 million in the midst of the state heralding its biggest tax cut ever in the coming fiscal year is a ridiculous dodge of reality.
And it is irresponsible to wait for a Trump plan that few experts or lawmakers in Washington seem to think will work. The longer we wait, the more Mississippi taxpayer dollars it will cost when the state finally gets around to investing in the roads and bridges. It's time to act, #msleg. Our economy, business development and safety depend on it.