Transportation bill heads to governor; see what’s in it for your county

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

Lawmakers review the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2018 during a special session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Jackson Monday, August 27, 2018.

House leaders called it historic legislation that was sent to Gov. Phil Bryant Monday to divert state funds to local governments for their infrastructure needs.

The proposal, which originated in the 2017 session in the state House, was part of the special session the governor has called to deal with infrastructure issues – both on the state and local government levels. Lawmakers continue to work on a lottery proposal that would be counted on to help raise revenue for the state’s transportation needs.

The governor is expected to soon sign into law the infrastructure legislation, which passed through both chambers by overwhelming margins. The House voted Monday by a 111-4 margin to concur in the changes made to the bill in the Senate and send it to the governor without further work.

“Passage of the bill is historic,” said House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton. He said the bill provides “a continuing stream of revenue for cities and counties from this day forward.”

That continuing stream of money comes from the diversion of the use tax. Under the bill, an estimated $120 million will be generated annually when the bill is fully enacted in four years for city and county infrastructure woes. The bill diverts 35 percent of the use tax revenue (a 7 percent tax on retail items purchased out of state such as via the internet) from the state to local governments. In doing so the pot of money for education and other state services will be reduced.

Cities and counties will receive their first payments from the diversion in January. It will be phased in over four years with the local governments receiving one-fourth of the total each year.

The bill also calls for the issuance $300 million in bonds – debt that will be paid off using a portion of the casino gambling tax that is currently set aside for transportation. Of that revenue, $250 million will go for emergency transportation needs on both the state and local levels, as determined by the Mississippi Transportation Commission. The final $50 million will be in a fund that will go for projects as determined by the Legislature.

One key Senate changes that the House accepted is that a commission, which would include representatives of city and county governments, the Mississippi Economic Council and others, would be formed to make non-birding recommendations to the Transportation Commission on how the bond revenue should be spent.

The bill also diverts from sports betting (an estimated $5 million to $15 million annually) to transportation.

The closure of about 500 county bridges in recent months for safety reasons helped spur the decision of the governor to call the special session that  began Thursday.