After more than three years as governor, Gov. Tate Reeves now has a major road building plan, just in time for his reelection campaign.
Of course Reeves, during his previous eight years as lieutenant governor, offered some road plans. But mostly these were to usurp MDOT’s plans and priorities and widen, pave or build ones around where he or his family lived.
But now he wants to go statewide, announcing with a press conference and social media campaign last week: “We will build the great roads and bridges that our state deserves!”
All he needs is the Legislature to give him $1.3 billion — he magnanimously said he doesn’t care where they they pull it from — and he’ll take it from there. He presented a jumbo map on an easel, with projects color-dotted across the state. The dots oddly coincide with areas one running for governor might concentrate campaign efforts, but never mind that.
Reeves said it’s now time to give “Mississippi the competitive advantage it needs to land more economic development projects and deliver more high-quality, high-paying jobs for Mississippians.”
Reeves admitted he cribbed his road list. It’s major thoroughfare projects, which are nearest “shovel ready,” from the three-year plan of MDOT — the agency that is supposed to plan, prioritize and build roads in Mississippi. Many of these are projects MDOT had long ago prioritized but has not been able to do because for many years it was starved of funding and had to focus its spending on maintenance instead of new projects or expansions.
Reeves made his big announcement as lawmakers, with an historic state budget surplus, were already discussing pumping hundreds of millions more dollars into roadbuilding. Senate lawmakers this week approved a bill to spend an extra $620 million, much of it on projects on Reeves’ list.
Now, while it might appear lawmakers are being stingy with $620 million when Reeves wants to spend $1.3 billion, Senate Transportation Chairwoman Jennifer Branning explained to colleagues the plan is to come back next year with similar funding. She noted, “MDOT can only do so much work in one year,” and dumping too much money at once would drastically drive up the cost of construction. When asked about this issue at his presser, Reeves suggested lawmakers could just put the $1.3 billion in an account earmarked for his road plan.
Someone politically cynical might surmise Reeves, who as governor controls neither state purse strings nor the building of roads, was trying to get out in front of the Legislature and take credit for a boom in roadbuilding he really has nothing to do with as reelection time nears.
If that was the plan, it appeared to work, at least from a public relations standpoint. Reeves’ road building announcement in the eleventh hour of his first term drew favorable if not fawning press from across the state, with headlines including: “Gov. Reeves announces $1.38B infrastructure plan; $206M for Pine Belt”; “Reeves’ plan includes $65M for I-55”; “Reeves’ plan would complete 19 four-lane”; “Reeves’ infrastructure plan could mean $25 million for Franklin County”; “Gov. Tate Reeves proposes $1.3 billion on development projects. See where money is going”; and “Gov. Reeves Requests $1.3 Billion For Road Projects to ‘Make Mississippi More Competitive.’”
Reeves could use this same formula for any number of issues to great effect. For instance, he could call a press conference, announce he’s solved the state’s health care crisis, and provide a list of $4 billion in hospital projects and spending statewide. If lawmakers don’t give him $4 billion, well, that’s on them. He had a plan.