Hill discusses fuel tax, special session at Rotary

Staff Writer

The Starkville Rotary Club heard some thoughts on the current special legislative session and a strong case for a fuel tax at its meeting Monday.

Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall spoke, sharing insight from several years in his current position, as well as a 24-year career in the Mississippi Legislature, including three terms each in the Mississippi House of Representatives and Mississippi State Senate. He offered his insight and concerns with the direction the ongoing special legislative session called by Gov. Phil Bryant was going, and explained his rationale for increasing fuel taxes to cover road and bridge maintenance costs.

“What I thought they were going to do is apparently about what they are going to do,” Hall said. “I think they are going to come up with some pretty significant monies for local government, counties and municipalities dealing with roads and bridges.”

Hall said the funds would likely come from use tax, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision saying states would collect use tax from sales tax.

“Of course in Mississippi, that’s seven percent,” Hall said. “Normally that would go to the general fund, but they’re talking about taking a portion of that money, I think they’re still debating on what size portion, and putting that into local government for roads and bridges, and also take some of these monies from the new ability to gamble on sports and do the same thing with that.”

He said the legislature was also considering a tax on hybrid and electric vehicles in the state.

“As far as your state system that I have something to do this, (it’s) not so good,” Hall said. “They’re talking about possibly passing a lottery, and if they pass it, they’ll give to the Mississippi Department of Transportation $80 million a each year for 10 years. What I need right now is something in the neighborhood of $400 million a year every year from now on.”

While emphasizing that he was a conservative Republican, who did not usually support raising taxes, Hall said raising taxes on fuel would help close the gap and keep Mississippi’s road infrastructure in better condition.

“Now, projects like the building of a four-lane highway, or the reconstruction of a major bridge take years from conception to construction to completion,” Hall said. “The last thing you need to do is get about halfway through a project like that, and then try to guess where your money’s going to come from. That’s why I continue to say a fuel tax makes sense. It’s stable. It’s predictable and the legislature is less likely to take the proceeds and spend it on some other important need as they will with the use tax or lottery tax.”

He said the last time a fuel tax increase had passed the Mississippi Legislature was in 1987. He also cited an article in the Clarion-Ledger, which said the lowest fuel prices in the country were in Jackson, Mississippi.

“There’s going to be a serious problem in Mississippi, if not a crisis in the funding of state government in the foreseeable future, “ Hall said. “We’re going to get into just what Louisiana’s gotten into. As a former chairman of the stat appropriations committee, I can see it coming. Not only are roads and bridges seriously underfunded, but so is public education, Medicaid, mental health, law enforcement and our universities,”

He said he wanted to see a plan from the legislature addressing the concerns, and supporting not just roads and bridges, but the entire state’s budget.