Speaker: Transportation talks ongoing for special session

JACKSON – Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said Monday that discussions are ongoing between the House and Senate on identifying possible sources of more revenue for transportation needs.

But Gunn conceded during a luncheon meeting of the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government/capitol press corps that he does not know if an agreement would be reached in time for the issue to be taken up during the June 5 special session.

“I don’t know if the governor would put any of these items (potential sources of new revenue for transportation) in the call (agenda) unless we told him we had an agreement with the Senate,” Gunn said, when asked if enhanced transportation funding might be included in the special session.

“If we don’t reach a consensus before the special session, we will continue these discussions toward next year. It is not something we are going to forget. I think we all realize...it is our responsibility,” Gunn said.

The House, at the urging of its leadership, killed the budget bill for the Department of Transportation at the end of the 2017 regular session in March, forcing the need to come back for a special session.

At the time, Gunn said the hope was that by the time of the special session a consensus could be reached on possible sources of additional revenue for transportation.

The Mississippi Economic Council has proposed spending an additional $375 million yearly for what many groups claim is a quickly deteriorating transportation system – both at the local and state levels.

Gunn said proposals made by the House could generate as much as $200 million annually in new revenue for transportation.

Those proposals include:

  • Spending a portion of revenue growth on transportation.
  • Directing a portion of growth in tax revenue from internet sales toward transportation.
  • Issuing bonds.
  • Allowing local communities to increase their gasoline tax through a referendum to pay for their road and bridge needs.
  • Taking away civil service protection for Department of Transportation employees presumably to increase efficiencies.

Gunn said he does not believe there would be time to take up a lottery in the special session.

Gov. Phil Bryant had indicated he might include the lottery for the special session agenda as a source of revenue for transportation if the MEC would endorse the plan.

Scott Waller, the interim chief executive officer of the MEC, said after Gunn spoke Monday that his organization is still studying Bryant’s proposal.

But of the lottery being included in the quickly approaching special session, Gunn said he believes “something of that magnitude...would require an enormous amount of study and analysis.”

Gunn, who opposes the lottery, has formed a committee to study the issue of whether the state should create a lottery.

But Gunn said Monday, the committee, which will meet Thursday, is designed to study the issue this year and make recommendations for the 2018 session.

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