Mississippi Senate panel could consider gas tax increase

Sen. Willie Simmons
Sen. Willie Simmons

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — A legislative panel will consider whether to increase Mississippi’s gasoline tax and put additional registration fees on vehicles to help pay for highway and bridge repairs.

Senate Highways and Transportation Committee Chairman Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, said he plans to bring up Senate Bill 2859 for debate in his committee on Tuesday. He said his proposals would generate about $441 million a year.

“We are just waiting for a nightmare accident to happen,” Simmons said Monday. “I read in the paper that a bridge collapsed this weekend from the rain…. This is a public safety issue.”

However, it’s not clear whether the plan will gain widespread support. Increasing any tax takes a three-fifths majority of the House and Senate, and a divided Senate voted last week to phase out the franchise tax, eliminate two income-tax brackets and provide a tax break to the self-employed.

Mississippi Department of Transportation executive director Melinda McGrath has said an additional $526 million a year is needed to repair more than one-third of highways and nearly one-fourth of bridges.

The state chamber of commerce supports putting more money into highways and bridges.

Legislators last approved a major increase in funding for transportation repairs in 1987.

At current wholesale prices, Simmons’ proposal would increase gasoline and diesel by about 12 cents a gallon at the pump, add a $6 fee to passenger vehicle tags, a $30 fee to vehicles over 6,000 pounds and $60 for vehicles over $10,000 pounds, The Clarion-Ledger reported (http://on.thec-l.com/21sc9KX). It would provide a state matching program for county and city roadwork, but to participate, a county would have to raise property taxes by one mill, or $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed property value. His proposal would also take $20 million from a state casino highways fund.

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