After Gunn moves swiftly, Reeves slows roads funding plans

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Despite swift action by House Speaker Philip Gunn last week, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is in no rush to address new funding measures for the state’s roads and bridges.

Adam Ganucheau | Mississippi Today

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves talks to reporters Monday at the Stennis Institute’s press club luncheon.

Reeves, who has now twice in 2018 expressed his desire to find more money for infrastructure, told reporters on Monday he’s “not prepared” to specify how he’ll divert more infrastructure money before April 1, the scheduled last day of the 2018 session.

The second term lieutenant governor’s approach is contrasted by action from House Speaker Philip Gunn, who pushed three pieces of legislation dealing with roads funding through his chamber on the first week of the 2018 legislative session.

“The House of Representatives passed three bills last week,” Reeves said Monday at the Stennis Institute’s press club luncheon. “I did notice that all of them actually take effect on July 1, 2018 – one of them, I think, would take effect July 1, 2020 – so I’m not really sure of exactly what the rush is to do that.”

“I’m not going to get more specific today,” Reeves later said. “There will be a time for that, and as we go through the legislative process, we’ll certainly get more specific, but I’m not prepared to do so at this time.”

Road, bridge repairs face roadblock

Gunn’s swift action last week underscored his continued commitment to the issue and attempted to force Reeves’ hand.

Reeves and Gunn battled over an infrastructure funding package last session, holding three spending bills hostage for leverage during conference committee negotiations, which ultimately forced a special session.

The House bills passed last week now await Senate committee assignment by Reeves before committee deadlines in coming weeks:

House Bill 357 authorizes the sale of bonds to help municipalities pay for infrastructure repair.

 House Bill 354 directs any surplus revenues beyond the 98 percent in the budget proposal to the state transportation department, counties and cities.

• House Bill 359 would impose a moratorium on most new road construction if right-of-ways have not already been acquired. The bill was later amended to add a loophole for economic-development projects.

Reeves didn’t say if he supported any or all of those measures, instead leaving the door open for any outcome on those bills or the implementation of his own new plan.

“I will say that if it is believed that the bills that have passed the House will solve our infrastructure challenges, the Senate may just pass them as is and move on to the next issue,” Reeves said.

In a 2016 analysis, the Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, said the state needs at least $375 million per year for infrastructure improvements. Mississippi Department of Transportation officials have said the state needs up to $400 million per year.

One floated source of diverting new funding to the Department of Transportation is raising the state’s 18.4-cent gas tax, garnering the support from many in the Senate, including some Republicans.

But Reeves, a staunch Republican who has long decried discussions of raising taxes, said on Monday he does not support increasing the gas tax.

“I do not believe there are 32 members of the Senate who will vote to raise the gas tax,” Reeves said.