Bryant says special session for roads and bridges coming
JACKSON, Miss. — There may not be a deal yet on transportation funding among legislative leaders, but Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant says he’s ready to call lawmakers back into session.
Clay Chandler, a spokesman for the Republican Bryant, said the governor intends to start the special session next week. An official document setting a start date of next Thursday could come Friday.
Lawmakers are likely to debate a mix of funding including money from a state lottery and taxes on internet sales. However, both Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have flatly rejected any increase in fuel taxes, the traditional method of funding road work.
“We are looking at providing $640 million in road and bridge funding over the next three years,” Bryant told the Clarion Ledger Thursday.
Bryant is fixing a deadline as talks are intensifying between House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, also Republicans. Reeves may have agreed with a House plan to divert part of increased tax collections on internet sales to cities and counties.
“We don’t have an agreement on everything, but we have an agreement on some things,” said House Transportation Committee Chairman Charles Busby, a Pascagoula Republican.
Busby said Reeves has sent proposals to House leaders in recent days focused on making such aid not automatic, but a grant program with certain conditions, including a possible requirement for cities and counties to provide matching money. Gunn, of Clinton, opposed such a match during the regular session, and Busby said House leaders were still discussing their response. Reeves did not respond Thursday to a request for an interview.
House leaders also indicated that lawmakers are likely to agree to borrow money for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, using a revenue stream from casino taxes. That revenue could support between $200 million and $300 million in bonds, depending on who’s counting.
Also in the mix is establishing a state lottery and devoting the small stream of revenue from taxes on sports betting. Busby, though, said House leaders’ proposal to raise fuel taxes in exchange for income tax cuts appears dead for now.
It’s unclear how much of a continuing stream of income the Mississippi Department of Transportation is likely to get to spend on state highways.
Transportation commissioners say $400 million more each year is needed to prevent deterioration of highways. However, relations between the department and Reeves are rocky. Reeves has long wanted to revamp the department, likely eliminating the elected commissioners. During the regular session he proposed a road package largely aimed at taking future budget surpluses and placing them under the governor’s control, prompting howls from the commissioners.
This summer, Reeves has faced questions about whether he tried to push the agency to build a $2 million road connecting the front gate of Reeves’ subdivision to a nearby Flowood shopping center.
Also possibly in the mix is an agreement on how the state should spend $700 million in economic damage payments from BP PLC after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Busby said, however, that any such agreement is likely to come only after a deal on primary road issues.
There’s at least a small risk of no action or a lengthy special session, and that’s a change for Bryant, who has avoided bringing lawmakers together for special session when the outcome is uncertain. The most recent special session where lawmakers met for more than three days was in 2008, when records show lawmakers met 13 times sporadically between May 21 and Aug. 4 during an impasse over funding the state-federal Medicaid health insurance program.