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Despite ongoing meetings to hammer out an agreement, there still does not seem to be consensus on what proposals could pass during an anticipated mid-August special session.
The session, which Gov. Phil Bryant has hinted at, would include funding state and local transportation improvements and divvying up funds from the 2010 BP drilling rig explosion and ensuing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Gov. Bryant, Speaker (Philip) Gunn and I have been talking since the session ended about how we can invest more in roads and bridges and use the BP settlement in a way that creates more jobs and opportunities for Mississippians,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, said recently. “If Gov. Bryant calls a special session and sets the agenda, the Senate will consider those options, and if he doesn’t, we will address those issues in January.”
Gunn, R-Clinton, has met with members of the Republican caucus to discuss proposals that could be brought up in the special session that Bryant has said he would like to call in mid-August.
“The House has been working diligently to find solutions to resolve both our infrastructure needs and BP,” Gunn said. “Our hope is to have solutions ready to go if and when the governor calls a special session.”
House and Senate Democrats, a minority in both chambers, held a joint meeting last week on transportation and a likely special session.
Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis, the House Democratic leader, said he and his Senate counterpart, Derrick Simmons of Greenville, would send a letter to the governor and legislative leadership saying they are ready to work toward a solution.
But Baria said part of the solution should be “postponing” the enactment of the $415 million tax cut that was passed in 2016. The tax cut, the largest in state history, is for businesses and on personal income.
“We think it would be unconscionable to give a tax break to out of state companies and to put a gasoline tax on somebody driving his truck to work,” said Baria, who is also running for U.S. Senate.
The gasoline tax, though, is not likely to be an issue in the special session. The legislative leadership is opposed to an increase in the 18.4 cent per gallon gasoline tax, which is the third lowest in the country. The motor fuel tax is the primary source of state funding for transportation.
The leadership also would not support the Democrats’ plans to postpone the 2016 tax cut and to use that money for transportation.
It is shaping up that the enactment of a lottery most likely would be the issue considered in the special session that would be the biggest source of revenue – an estimated $80 million or more per year. The governor has indicated that he wants to include a lottery, with the revenue earmarked for transportation, in the special session agenda. Many states that have lotteries direct those proceeds to education.
If the lottery is part of a special session, Gunn, who personally is opposed to the lottery, has said the proposal would have to originate in the Senate. If it passes the Senate, Gunn would be hard pressed to block the proposal from being considered in the House.
But when asked recently if there would be a vote on the lottery in a special session, Gunn said, “A better question for Mississippi Today to tackle would be to explain how a lottery is good public policy, how it is good for Mississippians, and the economic mechanics behind how a lottery generates any income.”
Gunn contends that studies show that the lottery does not generate new revenue, but instead takes funds from other ongoing economic activities.
The Legislature ended the 2018 session without an agreement on how to deal with what most everyone concedes is a quickly deteriorating transportation system and on how to divvy up the s funds the state is receiving as a result of settlement with BP after the 2010 oil rig explosion and ensuing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
The state is slated to receive $700 million over a 17-year period as compensation for lost sales tax revenue because of the slowdown in tourism activity on the Coast caused by the oil spill.
“From what I hear, that will not come up if we are not together,” on how to disburse those funds, said Rep. Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie. “I doubt it comes up.”
Many, especially Coast legislators, believe those funds should be dedicated to the three coastal counties. Others disagree, saying the money should be expended statewide since the state received the funds from BP as compensation for loss sales tax revenue that would have been spent statewide.
Two other areas where agreement might be reached is on diverting revenue from sports betting, which is just starting in Mississippi, to transportation needs and diverting a portion of the use tax revenue (collected on internet sales) to transportation. Currently those funds are designated for education, health care and other state agencies, but not for transportation.
But with more than 400 local bridges closed and hundreds of state bridges limited in their capacity, legislators and the governor know that they have to come up with additional revenue for transportation.