Hosemann rejects statewide gas tax increase, looks to improve health care, provide teacher, state employee raises

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann speaks during MEC’s Capital Day 2019 at the Jackson Marriott Thursday, January 10, 2019.

Lt. Gov.-elect Delbert Hosemann said recently he will not be advocating during the 2020 legislative session for a statewide increase in the motor fuel tax to help pay for infrastructure needs.

Mississippi’s 18.4-cent per gallon gasoline tax is the fourth lowest in the nation.

“I just don’t think it is necessary,” said Hosemann recently during a far-ranging news conference where he talked about the upcoming legislative session – his first as lieutenant governor after serving three terms as secretary of state. The session begins Jan. 7.

Hosemann said, “I don’t want to do a statewide gas tax. I do believe there will be an opportunity for a local option (gas tax.) To me that is the most conservative way to do it.”

Hosemann said he will push an option to allow counties to hold referendums on whether they want to increase the tax of motor fuel (gasoline and diesel) within their borders to help with road and bridge needs.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, adamantly opposed a statewide increase in the motor fuel tax during his successful bid for governor earlier this year. And Gov.-elect Reeves recently warned during a radio interview that he still opposed any proposal for a statewide increase. He did not address the local option gasoline tax increase.

To a large extent in the news conference Hosemann backed the argument made by Reeves that the revenue produced during the 2018 special session would resolve many of the state’s and local government’s road and bridge needs. During the special session, a lottery was created with the first $80 million in revenue set aside for state infrastructure needs. In addition, the Legislature diverted revenue from the state general fund (ultimately at least $120 million annually) and also approved grants for road and bridge work.

Various groups are still pushing the need for a gasoline tax increase – saying revenue from the special session will not solve the problem. In the past, the Department of Transportation has said an additional $400 million is needed annually to pay for road and bridge needs.

“While the special session of 2018 addressed some immediate needs, a long-term, sustainable solution still needs to be addressed,” Fix Mississippi Roads, a coalition of road builders and others, argued online.

During the campaign, Reeves also was staunchly opposed to expanding Medicaid, as is allowed under federal law to cover primarily the working poor. Various other candidates for governor and lieutenant governor voiced support for some form of Medicaid expansion. Hosemann said he wants to address the issue of providing coverage for what he said was between 100,000 and 200,000 Mississippians caught in a health care gap.

When asked about expanding Medicaid, Hosemann would not offer specifics, but said, “I think we can jumpstart the delivery of health care faster to individuals who are sorely in need of it even before reaching that conclusion…It is a billion dollar issue. A mistake will be catastrophic for Mississippi.” He said Mississippi needs to learn from mistakes made in other Medicaid expansion  states.

Under the expansion, the federal government would pay 90 percent of the costs and the state would pay 10 percent. Some form of Medicaid expansion has been approved in 37 other states. Hosemann cited the possibility of requiring work requirements and co-payments for potential beneficiaries under any Mississippi program.

He said the issue of health care access and affordability is “being actively explored daily.”

Hosemann indicated that he plans to work to provide a teacher pay raise and a pay increase for state workers during the upcoming session. Reeves also campaigned on providing a teacher pay raise. Hosemann said he did not necessarily want to stop with eventually moving teachers over a period of years to the Southeaster average as politicians often state as their goal. He spoke of exceeding the Southeastern average.

When asked if money was available for pay raises for both state employees and teachers, he said, “We just have to set our priorities. That is my priority.”