Bryant wants transportation funding session, but no deal yet

Published 8:40 am Saturday, July 7, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers could be called into special session in August to earmark money for transportation, but it’s unclear how close they might be to a deal as key House members say they’ve had little communication with senators and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant raised the possibility of the special session Friday, saying he aims to increase transportation spending by $200 million a year, using money from tax collections on internet sales, newly legalized sports betting and creation of a state lottery.

“It will not be gasoline tax,” Bryant told reporters.

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He said Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn have talked.

“I think we’re very close to an agreement of an infrastructure bill that we’d be very proud of,” Bryant said.
Republican Gunn, a leader in a Baptist church in Clinton, has long opposed a state lottery.

“He’s said a billion times that he’s opposed to a lottery because of principled beliefs and poor economics,” spokeswoman Meg Annison said Friday.

But Bryant and top House Republicans expressed confidence Gunn would allow the House to vote on a lottery bill.
“There are some things we’ve all disagreed on, but I think you’ll see the House to take a vote on that,” Bryant said.
Support for a lottery continues to build among Republicans.

“I believe a sufficient number of members of the House have come to him and told him they were in favor of it,” said Rep. Charles Busby, a Pascagoula Republican.

The plan could face an obstacle in House leaders’ desire to have what they call a tax swap, imposing about $160 million in new fuel taxes while eliminating the state’s 4 percent income tax bracket on yearly income between $5,000 and $10,000.
Republican Reeves has opposed any fuel tax increase, instead proposing to use cash when the state finishes a budget year with money left over.

“We will have to carefully consider how to balance those real infrastructure needs with the concerns of local elected officials around the state, and we’re still in discussions about the best way to do that,” Reeves said in a statement.

House Ways and Means Committee Vice Chairman Trey Lamar, a Senatobia Republican, said House members still want to divert more than $100 million a year in tax collections on internet sales to city and county needs. During the regular session, Reeves wanted cities to match state infrastructure dollars, but House leaders balked.

Without the tax swap, that could leave less than $100 million annually for the Mississippi Department of Transportation to increase spending on state roads and bridges. Transportation commissioners say $400 million more each year is needed to prevent deterioration of highways.

Bryant also said Friday he wants a plan for spending $700 million in economic damage payments from 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Discussions about that collapsed in the final days of the session, but Busby and Lamar both expressed confidence a deal could be reached, probably spending 75 percent of the money on the Gulf Coast and 25 percent elsewhere.