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Don’t expect roads bill passage

Highway commissioner Dick Hall has been a voice in the wilderness, crying to make Mississippi’s crooked roads into straight paths.

It’s not worked so far, despite strong support from our state’s business community and an undeniable need.

And from the looks of things, don’t expect additional road and bridge funding to make any more headway in the 2018 legislative session than it did in 2017.

Gov. Phil Bryant gave a nary a mention of the issue during his State of the State address Tuesday. We suppose it would have gone against what seemed to be his theme of “Trust Me: Everything’s Great in Mississippi If Only the Media Would Tell it That Way.” After all, there’s no way to say much positive about the state of Mississippi’s roads and bridges. Bryant presumably adopted the old advice of if you can’t find anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn said later in regards to roads and bridges that Bryant couldn’t cover every issue in a 20-minute speech. Maybe Bryant could have cut a couple of his sentences complaining about negative news coverage and replaced it with a few remarks about what the Mississippi Economic Council has said is a $375 million and growing shortfall every year in what is needed to keep up our roads. That leaves out building any new roads, mind you, just maintenance.

Hall, a Republican who chairs the Mississippi Transportation Commission, expressed his disappointment with the governor more plainly than Gunn.

“We have bridges out there that were designed for 50 years that have been there for 90 years on the federal highways. We’re at the point now, soon, not another three or four years. … It’s not only a safety issue, it’ll cost you four times the money to correct it later. The least expensive thing to do is to do something now,” Hall was quoted as saying by Mississippi Today.

Bryant, whom we generally like despite our criticism here, is always quick to point out his pro-business policies. Why not then do what Mississippi’s preeminent business organization, the MEC, has been begging to get done for years? Fix our roads before it costs us way more than it will now.

Of course, it won’t happen for one main reason: Conservative legislators, who know the work needs to be done, are afraid people will not re-elect them if they pass an increase in a gas tax. Good politics, perhaps, but bad leadership.

With little chance of a road-and-bridge bill being passed under the current officials, the time has come for the traditional Republicans in this state to stop running scared from the Tea Partiers and back candidates who pledge to support a road-and-bridge plan.

Let the Tea Partiers complain: They can drive in the ditch if they prefer rather than on our new roads.