Mississippi taxpayers are being deceived by many of our state legislators. Last year, a fuel excise tax increase was considered by legislators and other elected officials, but the issue was supposedly put on hold because most Mississippians oppose any increase in the fuel tax. Although a “fuel tax increase” bill was not submitted for a vote, legislators did find a way to circumvent the will of the Mississippi voter.
The Mississippi House of Representatives began introducing bills appropriating money for repairing and maintaining roads and bridges without directly creating “a fuel tax increase.” In essence, they are creating a tax increase without calling it a tax increase. Another clever trick by these tax increase enthusiasts is that they fail to report about fuel excise tax revenue funding other agencies and projects rather than repairing roads and bridges.
House Bill #722 (“Improve Mississippi Act of 2018”) was one of the first bills introduced by the Mississippi House in the 2018 legislative session. House Bill #722 appropriates 35% of the “use” tax to repairing roads and bridges. While supporters can claim that they did not raise the fuel excise tax, legislators need to answer questions, such as: Was the Mississippi government fleecing Mississippi tax payers by 35%? If so, what other taxes are fleecing Mississippians by 35%? What happens when the purpose of the “use” tax requires more revenue? Does the State legislature increase the “use” tax or divert taxes from other tax bills to plug the hole? When state politicians have the Mississippi taxpayer to supplement their habits and know the art of kicking the can down the road, they are not likely to answer these questions.
Another issue regarding HB #722 is that the 35% “use” tax diversion is split three ways – 15% to municipalities, 15% to counties, and 5% to the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA). The 15% allocation to the municipalities and counties are based on several criteria, which includes sales tax collection percentages and the number of state road miles in a county. Therefore, the wealthier municipalities and counties will receive the largest shares of the 15%. A Smith County resident probably feels his/her roads are just as important as those in Hinds County. Another troublesome concern is the allocation of the 5% to MDA for grants. The MDA will decide who the deserving municipalities and counties will be, which should create evident red flags, such as cronyism. Also, grants always come with strings attached; for example, ensuring bicycle lanes are provided when there is no need for one. (For those in my home county of Jones, Representative Donnie Scoggin is a co-author of HB #722 and Representative Gary Staples voted in favor of it.)
House Bill #357 is another bill passed early in the 2018 legislative session, and it authorizes the issuance of $50 million in bonds for roads and bridges. HB #357 divides the bond money by 50% to municipalities and 50% to counties, and the bill does not provide criteria on how the money will be distributed to counties and municipalities. That should be another red flag. Bear in mind, the Mississippi taxpayer will be on the hook for $50 million and the interest. A caution to this bill is if the State legislature does pass a fuel tax increase, Mississippians will still be responsible for paying back the bonds. (Donnie Scoggin is a co-author of HB #357 and Gary Staples voted in favor.)
Another less known tactic of pro-tax legislators is the funding of other agencies with fuel excise tax revenue instead of using it for roads and bridges. Two bills of concern are HB #1518 and HB #1525 that passed in 2017. HB #1518 appropriated $3,050,000 of fuel excise tax to the Department of Marine Resources (passed the House 106-1; Scoggin and Staples voted for it). HB #1525 appropriates another $5,750,000 of fuel excise tax to the Fisheries and Wildlife Fund (passed the House 94 to 6, Scoggin and Staples voted for it). Also, another insidious law from 2017 is HB #1226, which siphons off millions of dollars from the fuel excise tax to help fund the Capitol Complex Improvement District Project Fund. If the repair and maintenance of roads and bridges are so pertinent, legislators should not be appropriating fuel excise taxes to fund other agencies and projects.
Promoters for increasing the fuel excise tax are disingenuous when claiming that our roads and bridges are of the highest priority. Of course, their bloviating will tickle the ears and seem highly important; however, we know that their agenda is not about “serving” the Mississippi taxpayer. Their agenda is about “using” the Mississippi taxpayer. Unfortunately, when these advocates of greater taxation do not get their way, they nickel and dime the Mississippi taxpayer.
The idea of giving more money to an irresponsible government should be repugnant to responsible Mississippi voters, as well as Republicans. However, Republicans have become some of the biggest proponents of increasing the fuel excise tax, including Senator Dean Kirby of Pearl and Highway Commissioner Dick Hall. Senator Kirby has even suggested applying “fees” to tires, hybrid cars, and electric cars to generate revenue for roads and bridges. Politicians like Kirby and Hall may claim they are Republicans; however, they are not conservative. In my opinion, not only does the Washington swamp need draining, so does the one in Jackson.