Legislation will increase funds to state

By MARLAN JONES,

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant recently called for a special session to work out a plan that would put nearly $200 million a year into highways and bridges. 

Bryant called the five-day session with the purpose of creating the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2018. The act followed the recent discussions by the Magee and Mendenhall Boards of Aldermen on what to do with the use tax., which includes tax revenue gained from online purchases and sports betting.

The session also called for an act to create the Mississippi Lottery Law that would establish a state lottery.

 District 35 Senator Chris Caughman briefly summarized what took place during the five days. He explained that three different bills were passed. The first was SB 2001, which established the Mississippi Lottery Corporation to administer the lottery. Caughman explained that passing the bill is expected to generate 80 million dollars a year which will be used for repairs to roads and bridges across the state. It was also noted that any money generated above 80 million will go toward funding education.

HB 1 established the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act. It specified what would be done with online sales tax collected by the state. Caughman said that 35 percent of the use tax collected would be divided among cities, counties, and the local system bridge replacement and rehabilitation program. He said that 15 percent each would go to counties and cities and the remaining 5 percent would be distributed to the local system bridge program. The money from this fund should be used to assist municipalities with cost associated with repair, maintenance and reconstruction of roads streets and bridges.

He said that to determine the amount that will be allocated to municipalities they have to establish a base expenditure. According to HB 1, base expenditure means the average annual expenditure made by a municipality for the purposes of repairing roads and bridges.

To calculate this, municipalities have been instructed to take the amount of money budgeted for that purpose for each of the last five years. Then they throw out the highest year and lowest year, and average the remaining three to establish their base expenditure. To be eligible to receive full funds from the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act municipalities must spend no less than their base expenditure each fiscal year.

Funds for counties shall be distributed as follows: One-third shall be allocated to all counties in equal shares. One-third shall be allocated to counties based on the proportion that the total number of rural road miles in a county bears to the total number of rural road miles in all counties of the state. The final third shall be allocated to counties based on the proportion that the rural population of a county bears to the total rural population in all counties of the state, according to the latest federal decennial census.

After July 1 of 2020 the maximum amount of such funds that may be distributed to the county during that year shall not exceed the amount of county funds expended by the county during the previous county fiscal year.

Senator Caughman said that the use tax is expected to generate over 120 million dollars a year over a four year phase in period. That number included revenue gained from casino sports betting. He said, “I believe it’s going to be bigger than that because more and more people are using online shopping.”

Simpson County Administrator Rhuel Dickinson reiterated that the various amounts of money given to the cities and counties will not be given in a lump sum. It instead will be dispersed over a four year period until the full amount due is attained. Dickinson also said that these new funds will very likely have additional rules and restrictions that may limit use.

The final bill passed during the five day special session was SB 2002, which divided funds received by the state from BP for economic damages in connection with the explosion and sinking of mobile drilling unit Deepwater Horizon.

Caughman said that a 75/25 split was agreed upon. He explained that 75 percent of the funds received would be split between coastal counties and the remaining 25 percent would go to the rest of the state. The state portion of the funds is expected to be approximately  $111 million.

Each of the bills passed was geared towards generating much needed revenue for the state. The special session concluded with both sides of the legislature and the governor saying they felt that progress was made towards improving Mississippi.