Road underscores Reeves’ liability

By TIM KALICH,

Of course Jim Hood is playing political games, as Tate Reeves alleges, by investigating what arms were twisted and who was doing the twisting in pushing for the construction of what is being comically referred to as “Tate Reeves Way.”

The Democratic attorney general and the Republican lieutenant governor have been sounding for months — although nothing is official yet — as likely opponents in next year’s election to succeed Gov. Phil Bryant, who is term-limited. Hood relishes any opportunity to take a jab at Reeves.

But Reeves handed him that opportunity with his heavy-handedness in trying to dictate where the Mississippi Department of Transportation spends its money, especially when it comes to serving the area where Reeves and his neighbors live.

The lieutenant governor claims he had nothing to do with the proposed $2 million frontage road — now put on hold — that was designed to serve his subdivision with preferred access to Lakeland Drive. He can’t deny, though, that he had a lot to do with putting the widening of that major thoroughfare ahead of other more pressing road and bridge needs in this state.

Hood’s investigation presumably will establish whether Reeves is telling the truth about his non-involvement in pressuring MDOT to go forward with the frontage road, even though MDOT’s own analysis showed that it was an unnecessary expense. The attorney general has said he wants to look at emails and other correspondence between state and legislative officials about the matter.

Reeves’ probably doesn’t need to sweat too much about any legal proceedings arising out of Hood’s investigation.

But the situation does create a political vulnerability by underscoring the tendency of Reeves and many of his fellow Republicans to worry more about the “haves” in this state than the “have-nots.”

Reeves has been one of the main obstacles to getting a comprehensive road and bridge maintenance plan enacted in this state because he refuses to acknowledge that it’s going to take more taxes to make it happen. While he’s been content to watch bridges closed down throughout rural Mississippi and roads go unmaintained, he apparently didn’t think such austerity applied to his own suburban neck of the woods.

This past legislative session, Reeves — after rejecting everyone else’s ideas, including that of the business-minded Mississippi Economic Council — presented his own road and bridge funding plan. It  was most notable by Reeves’ desire to shift some authority from the Transportation Commission to the governor in deciding what projects get funded. Since Reeves expects to occupy that office soon, his proposal seemed more about increasing his power — including the power to help his campaign contributors and other supporters — than it was about coming up with a comprehensive solution to the state’s crumbling infrastructure.

The frontage-road controversy — like the hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate tax breaks Reeves has supported — further paints the Republican as a tool of the well-heeled. The depiction just might stick.