JACKSON – The Mississippi Legislature passed two bills which lawmakers hope will fund the state’s aging roads and bridges.
During this five-day special session, lawmakers agreed to send 35 percent of internet sales tax (also known as use tax) to cities and counties for infrastructure improvements. In addition, the Legislature voted to create a lottery that will direct $80 million each year to the Mississippi Department of Transportation, with any additional revenue raised from the lottery going toward public education.
The distribution of the $50 million in internet sales tax will be split between all 82 counties based on a formula that takes into account population, the square miles of each county, and equal shares to each county. Representative Karl Oliver [R-Winona] said estimates projected for internet sales tax collections is $338 per year.
Montgomery County will receive $397,310 in the distribution, while Carroll County will receive $466,123.
The distribution to cities and towns are based on population, sales tax revenue, and equal shares. Locally, Winona receiving $147,813; Kilmichael $24,772; Duck Hill $24,206; Carrollton, $17,494; North Carrollton, $19,545; and Vaiden, $27,410.
Senate Bill 2002 allocates funds from the $1.5 billion settlement from BP PLC with the state of Mississippi to cover economic damages from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. The bill mandates that 70 percent of funds from the settlement will go to the six southernmost counties in Mississippi – the ones most affected by the spill. The bill allocated the remaining funds to be shared with the other 76 counties, with more than $100 million earmarked for special infrastructure projects across the state.
In Carroll and Montgomery counties, money earmarked for special projects include $300,000 for street improvements in the City of Winona, $ 500,000 for Carroll County to repair a bridge on County Road 157, $200,000 for street improvements in the Town of Carrollton, $100,000 for resurfacing and street improvements in the Town of Vaiden, $100,000 for repairs and upgrades to the Marshall Elementary School Road, and $200,000 for Binford Street upgrades for the Town of Kilmichael.
According to the Associated Press, lawmakers predict the bills passed during the special session is an investment of $200 million a year into transportation on an ongoing basis. They also agreed to borrow $300 million, with $250 million going to an emergency bridge fund to reopen the 435 bridges still closed statewide as mandated by the federal government.
However, MDOT stated that is needs an additional $400 million a year to maintain Mississippi’s aging highway system, no near the amount of revenue projected from the measures made during the special section.
Senator Lydia Chassaniol (R-Winona) said she is pleased with the “compromise bill” between the Mississippi House and Senate to allow all Mississippians some benefit from the BP settlement.
“I think the compromise is good because it gives money to local people,” Chassaniol said. “Local people know local needs.”
Oliver was also pleased with how funds were split to fund local infrastructure, especially that local municipalizes and counties will receive $1.6 million to make infrastructure improvements.
As for the creation of a lottery, Chassaniol, who is chairman of the Senate Tourism Committee, said it will keep Mississippians spending money in their home state instead of traveling to neighboring states to purchase lottery tickets.
“I not only voted for [the creation of the lottery], but I championed it,” Chassaniol said. “You don’t have to participate in the lottery if you don’t want to. For me, it is a tourism issue. When people go out of state to buy lottery tickets, they are taking money out of the state. No one goes out of state to just buy a lottery ticket. They are likely purchasing gas, meals, groceries, or even shopping for other things as well. My goal with the lottery is that Mississippi will see more headlights than taillights.”
Oliver said he felt the distribution method for internet sales tax is a fair formula for all counties and municipalities, not just the largest in the state.
However, Oliver opposed the creation of the lottery.
“I think the whole process was rushed through and that is why I was opposed to it,” Oliver said. “I’m not going to vote for something that had 15 minutes of debate and I had only enough time to read five pages of a 135 page bill.”
Oliver said even after reading the bill, he feels the creation of the lottery was a bad policy to govern a state by, saying that it is primarily a tax on the poor.
“I think it is irresponsible for government to place this tax on the section of society who can less afford