Special session on infrastructure possible for August; plan will likely include lottery

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Gov. Phil Bryant said Friday he is working with legislative leaders to finalize a plan to provide additional funds for infrastructure to be taken up during a special session – most likely in mid-August.

The second-term Republican governor said that plan would include a proposal to legalize a lottery.

Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Gov. Phil Bryant outlines his legislative priorities during the State of the State address earlier this year.

“I feel confident we will have it in the call,” said Bryant. He said he respects the fact Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, is opposed to the lottery as he was at one time, but said he believes the speaker will allow the full House to vote on the issue.

As Bryant said in late May, he anticipates a plan that will divert use tax revenue (collected by online retailers) from education, health care and other programs to transportation. The plan would also divert money collected from betting on sporting events to transportation as well.

Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings have allowed states to require online retailers to collect a tax for the states on the items sold online and have allowed states to legalize betting on sporting events. The state Gaming Commission already has adopted regulations, which go into effect later this month, to allow Mississippi casinos to take bets on sporting events.

But to garner the additional $200 million per year for infrastructure that the governor said will be the goal of the special session, he said a lottery is needed.

In a statement, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said, “I have spoken with Speaker Gunn and Gov. Bryant numerous times over the past few months about how these potential sources of revenue, particularly those created by U.S. Supreme Court decisions, can be used to address road and bridge needs. We will have to carefully consider how to balance those real infrastructure needs with the concerns of local elected officials around the state, and we’re still in discussions about the best way to do that.”

Bryant reiterated the proposal would not include an increase in the state’s 18.4-cent per gallon gasoline tax.

The Legislature and the governor have been grappling with how to deal with what most agree is a deteriorating infrastructure system on both the state and local levels. Federal officials have forced the closure of hundreds of county bridges – nearly 500 as of this week –  deemed as unsafe and officials have estimated an additional $400 million per year is needed to address state transportation woes.

But there has been no will among the political leadership to increase the motor fuel tax, which is the primary source of state funding for infrastructure.

Under the proposal being considered for the special session, funds that had been earmarked for education and other state services will be diverted to transportation.

Studies by the University Research Center have estimated the lottery would generate about $90 million annually in revenue for the state.

The governor also said he expects the special session to include a plan to disburse the settlement funds from the 2010 BP drilling rig explosion and oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. There is a disagreement on whether those funds should be spent on projects solely on the Gulf Coast or throughout the state.

Of the pending special session, Meg Annison, a spokesperson for the speaker, said, “The speaker and House members have been working together to address solutions for these ongoing issues.”