The state Legislature has been busy the past eight sessions cutting taxes, yet, at least 60 percent of Mississippians, based on a NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, would be willing or somewhat willing to pay more taxes for education and for infrastructure.

In terms of education, 19 percent were very willing and 41 percent somewhat willing,  compared to 22 percent not too willing and 17 percent not at all willing to pay higher taxes, the poll respondents said. Results from a September poll asking the same question were near identical.

The the NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll of 1,042 registered voters released Friday was conducted earlier this month and has an “error estimate” of plus or minus 4.2 percent.

According to the poll, done in collaboration with Mississippi Today, 22 percent would be very willing “to pay higher taxes” for infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, and 42 percent would be somewhat willing. On the flip side, 23 percent would be not too willing  and 13 percent not at all willing to pay additional taxes for infrastructure improvements.

The infrastructure tax question also was asked by NBC News/SurveyMonkey in September and the results were close to the same (62 percent very or somewhat willing) and 38 percent (not too willing or not at all willing.)

The poll also found that 59 percent of Mississippians think the state government is doing a poor job at maintaining infrastructure.

Eight state-owned bridges and 468 county-owned bridges remain closed after federal inspectors deemed them unsafe in April 2018 and Gov. Phil Bryant issued an unprecedented state of emergency. Currently, 278 state-owned bridges and 1,856 county-owned bridges are not closed but posted. These postings, to varying degrees, limit the weight allowed on these bridges. This forces cargo trucks to find alternative routes and has disrupted commerce across the state.

A Mississippi Today analysis found that the massive number of bridge closures disproportionately affects majority black counties and counties that typically vote Democrat.

The current  tax on motor fuel was enacted by the Legislature in 1987. Since that time, the cost of building and maintaining roads and bridges has tripled, according to Senate Transportation Chair Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, who is running for Central District Transportation commissioner.

“We’re trying to operate at the same costs. We’re way passed due,” Simmons said.

The poll did not ask what type of taxes respondents would be willing to pay. In the ongoing election for governor, there has been debate about increasing the state’s 18.4-cent per gallon tax on gasoline which is the fourth lowest in the nation, to deal with infrastructure needs.

On the Republican side in the race for governor, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who has been a leader in the tax cutting effort, opposes raising the gasoline tax. His Republican opponents, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. and state Rep. Robert Foster, have advocated increasing the gasoline tax while reducing other taxes, such as the personal income tax.

On the Democratic side, gubernatorial front-runner Attorney General Jim Hood has not ruled out the possibility of an increase in the gasoline tax, but said he wanted to look for other options first.

Hood has endorsed reducing Mississippi’s 7 percent grocery tax, which is the highest statewide tax on food in the nation.

Bryant, who cannot seek a third term, recently said on social media “Republicans have cut taxes over 50 times in the last eight years and have $400 million in savings and $200 million more in revenue than last year.”

Between 2012-2015, the Legislature passed about 50 tax cuts taking about $325 million out of the general fund. In 2016, the Legislature passed the largest tax cut in the state’s history, costing about $415 million in today’s dollars when fully enacted in 2028. The total general fund is about $5.9 billion in today’s dollars.

Reeves, Bryant and others argue the tax cuts have grown the state’s economy. Others point to more than $300 million in cuts to state programs because of revenue shortfalls, leaving unmet needs, such as in transportation, health care and infrastructure.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.

Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.