The easier way to fix MDOT

G ive Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, points for being honest.

Lamar presented a bill on the House floor last week that is basically a counter-offer to the Senate’s idea to raise money for highway improvements. In doing so, he acknowledged that the House proposal was imperfect, but he added that it was the best his peers could do “without a straight-up tax increase.”

“A user fee increase with the gas tax would be the far easier way to fix MDOT, but there just aren’t the votes there to do that.” he added.

Lamar is obviously correct. Otherwise the Legislature would have tackled this problem a couple of years ago, when the Mississippi Economic Council got behind a proposal for a sizable fuel tax increase. But Lamar is one of the few Republicans willing to say so.

GOP lawmakers would rather concede that highway funding is problematic, or say that lawmakers are looking for solutions. Some will say they question the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s figures, although no one has made a compelling financial presentation to show that MDOT is overstating the issue. But few will say plainly that a higher gasoline tax is the simplest way to raise the extra highway money.

The House bill is different from the Senate’s in that it does not divert future highway revenue — up to $800 million — to the control of the governor, a job Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the president of the Senate, hopes to have in 2020.

But the big flaw in both versions is that the amount of extra money for highways would be greatly dependent on the state’s economy and the tax revenues it generates. If the economy remains flat, as it has for the past three years, then highways get less. This will not fix the state’s maintenance needs.