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Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves indicated Monday there is general agreement between the House and Senate leaders to provide about $200 million annually for the state’s infrastructure needs during a special session that Gov. Phil Bryant has indicated he will call to begin on Thursday.
Bryant, a second term Republican, has yet to issue the official call for the special session, but Monday morning Reeves said he expects it to include enacting a lottery and diverting a portion of use tax revenue from education and other programs to transportation. Use tax is the 7 percent tax levied on retail items purchased out of state.
House and Senate leaders have been grappling for multiple years with how to generate additional funds for what most agree is a deteriorating state and local infrastructure system. There has been no willingness to increase the 18.4-cent per gallon motor fuel tax and finding a viable alternative has proven difficult. The regular session ended in April with the House and Senate leadership still not agreeing. The governor has indicated that he planned to call a special session to try to address the issue.
Infrastructure has been at the forefront of issues facing the state and could be a major factor in the upcoming 2019 statewide elections.
On Monday, Reeves said he expects that the governor’s special session agenda also would entail diverting revenue from sports betting that is now being allowed at Mississippi casinos and “monetizing” revenue from a fund that provides revenue for roads in casino counties to issue about $300 million in long-term debt to pay for bridge repairs throughout the state. Close to 500-county-owned bridges across the state are closed, and many counties do not have the money to pay for the repairs to reopen them.
Reeves said there are details to work out, but that there is “a general agreement” between the House and Senate leadership on the issues in the special session.
“I think this is definitely a step in fixing one of our most challenging issues,” Reeves said Monday morning.
Both Reeves and Gunn have voiced opposition to the lottery, but the lieutenant governor says he anticipates it being voted on during the special session. Six states nationwide, including Mississippi, do not have a lottery
The estimate, Reeves said, is that the lottery would generate about $80 million annually and that the use tax diversion would be about $100 million per year.
During the session, reports were that the Senate wanted local governments to provide “matching funds” in order to draw down the additional state funds for transportation. Reeves said Monday that is not a requirement to have legislation passed during the special session.
“Many of these items were House proposals during the regular session, many if not most,” he said. “Some of them were in Senate bills. The bottom line if all of these passed the Legislature in the next few days or week or so…” the Legislature would have “found a viable” solution to the state’s infrastructure needs.
He said he, Speaker Phil Gunn and the governor have been working on the issue since the regular session ended with no agreement.
Questions still will be asked of whether an increase of $200 million annually is enough, considering some have estimated an additional $400 million annually is needed, and whether other agencies can absorb more than $100 million per year being taken from them for transportation.