Special Session Could Consider Road, Bridge Funding, If Speaker Gunn Gets His Way | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Special Session Could Consider Road, Bridge Funding, If Speaker Gunn Gets His Way

House Speaker Philip Gunn's staff revealed plans to work on road funding to the press and the Senate on Thursday, May 4, hoping some of the options will be a part of the Legislature's special session in June.

House Speaker Philip Gunn's staff revealed plans to work on road funding to the press and the Senate on Thursday, May 4, hoping some of the options will be a part of the Legislature's special session in June. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

— House Speaker Philip Gunn's staff revealed proposals to get more funding to roads and bridges—which they hope to be included in a special session Gov. Phil Bryant called for June. Staffers gave the House proposal to the office of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves as well as to the governor on Thursday, May 4.

Bryant set the special session June 5, but has not revealed what will be addressed in that session. The governor has the sole authority to call special sessions and set the agenda.

Gunn's staff told reporters that all seven road and bridge funding proposals could be ready by June 5. The House introduced four new ideas for infrastructure funding, as well as amended three proposals (like using voluntary tax money from entities like Amazon) to pay for roads and bridges in the state.

The House's new proposal includes imposing a new road moratorium, as well as removing the Mississippi Department of Transportation out from under the State Personnel Board so the agency can find savings, likely through trimming staff.

One House proposal would allow local counties or cities to hold referendums to raise local fuel tax, if voters approve it. The details of the Local Option Fuel Tax, called LOFT, are not final, and Gunn's Chief of Staff Nathan Wells said details could be worked out in discussions with Senate staff.

The proposal also suggests taking some funds from the Gaming Sinking Fund, an annual fund made up of casino tax revenue, and issuing a bond over the next 20 years to continue to be used to repair roads and bridges in gaming counties and those adjacent to gaming counties in the state.

The Senate staff's immediate response does not look hopeful for the future of discussions about addressing roads and bridges funding in 2017.

Laura Hipp, Reeves' director of communications, said he sees no reason to comment on the House's proposals.

"Out of respect for Gov. Bryant's authority to set the agenda for the special session, the lieutenant governor sees no reason to comment on ideas that are not likely to be part of any call," Hipp said in an emailed comment. "Until told otherwise, he expects to pass the appropriation bills as agreed to by House and Senate conferees during the regular session."

If all the House's proposals are taken into consideration, they could equal around $175 million annually to fund roads and bridges, Wells told reporters. That's does not count the potential of local entities raising additional funds to repair local roads and bridges.

"We hope that this will spur along a conversation on trying to come up with things to address the issue," Wells told reporters in the speaker's office on Thursday. Speaker Gunn had left town by the time of the press avail.

Wells said he did not know how the House will react if discussions do not materialize and the special session ends up being only about the three agency budgets that died in the session this year (two Department of Transportation budgets and the attorney general's budget).

While the governor has yet to lay out all that will be in the special session, when asked about the EdBuild proposal to revamp the state's funding formula, Wells said "it will not be a part of the special session." Whether the Senate decides to engage in discussions about road funding before June 5 remains to be seen.

Email state reporter Arielle Dreher at arielle@jacksonfreepress.com and follow her on Twitter at @arielle_amara.

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