House Speaker Philip Gunn expressed renewed optimism Monday at the possibility of additional funding for roads and bridges.
At a Stennis Capitol Press Forum, Gunn said he and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves are meeting weekly to discuss new ideas for road funding ahead of the June 5 special session to ensure funding for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, state aid roads and the Attorney General’s office.
A dispute between Reeves and Gunn over how to pay for an infrastructure improvement plan sank the original transportation bill at the end of the regular legislative session.
A House bond bill that would have provided millions for construction projects at colleges, community colleges and for roads and bridges died in committee.
But Gunn told the audience that many of those options are “back on the table” as he works with Reeves and the Senate to come to an agreement before the special session.
Reeves’ spokesperson Laura Hipp said the lieutenant governor and the speaker “communicate frequently on a variety of issues,” but said she had no reason to comment on ideas that were not specifically included in the governor’s call for the special session.
Only the governor can call a special session, and the issues included in it are at his discretion. During the session Bryant expressed support for efforts to increase funding for highway construction.
During the lunch, Gunn revisited the seven-point road funding pitch, which together would would bring a minimum of $175 million per year more for infrastructure funding, according to his staff.
Gunn began the forum reiterating his disdain for comments made by Rep. Karl Oliver, R-Winona, but spent most of his time addressing the recent legislative session and upcoming special session.
As he has said before, Gunn said the Republican leadership has worked hard to “live within our means,” referring to a $6 billion state budget that he said controls spending and reduces the size of government.
“The mere fact that we’re scaling that back now is not something that should be a shock or a surprise,” he said. “And it’s something for which we don’t necessarily apologize. We said we were going to do that, we said we were going to live within our means, we’re going to control spending and that’s what we’re doing.”
The Capitol Complex, Health Care Collaboration Act, and campaign finance bills are each pieces of legislation Gunn is proud of, he said. But the Legislature still has some unfinished business.
A new formula for public education funding is another topic that failed to pass out of the Legislature this session. Gunn said the House will continue to work on crafting a funding formula that clearly outlines how much a district would receive.
“We worked hard on that and as I’ve said repeatedly, we want to get it right we don’t want to get it rushed,” Gunn said. “Just because we didn’t get it done this session doesn’t mean were going to continue working on it.”
Ideally, the new formula will establish a base cost per student and then add additional monies based on the specific needs of students in the district, he said.
“We want to find a formula that is understandable and that will provide a more predictable stream of revenue to our school systems,” Gunn said.