Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Sid Salter: Fuel Tax Debate Renewed Between Mississippi Pols & Business Leaders

Speaking to the Delta Council Annual Meeting in Cleveland recently, United Parcel Service chairman and chief executive officer David Abney – a Mississippi Delta native who leads the world’s largest package delivery company - strongly advocated increases in both federal and state fuel taxes to fund future highway construction and maintenance at a time when both national and state infrastructure stands in inarguable need to repair and improvement.


Mississippi's 18.4 cents per gallon state gas tax (CPG) is a flat tax. When we paid $3.965 a gallon for gas in 2008, the tax was 18.4 CPG. When we pay $2.35 per gallon at the pump this week, the state tax is still 18.4 CPG. The only way the state takes in more revenue in gas taxes is for the volume of gas consumed to increase – and automobiles are now manufactured to require less fuel consumption that a decade ago.

The state fuel tax rates haven’t increased since 1987, the last time the state was particularly serious about improving our highway system.

The federal fuel tax is likewise 18.4 cents per gallon and haven’t changed since 1993. Neither the federal nor state fuel taxes have kept pace with inflation. Indexed for inflation, both federal and state fuel tax rates would be 31 cents per gallon and far closer to actually funding what’s needed to build and adequately maintain the national and state infrastructures.

Abney delivered his Delta Council call for higher federal and state fuels taxes while Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves – both of whom opposed increased fuel taxes – were sitting behind him on the stage. In the audience was outgoing Republican Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, a strong proponent of raising federal and state fuel taxes who has been publicly calling for the hikes for most of the last decade.

The 2019 Republican gubernatorial primary is finding the issue of raising the state gas tax to be a bright line issue separating the candidates. Reeves, the frontrunner, and GOP State Rep. Robert Foster of Hernando have stated their opposition to higher fuel taxes. Former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller, like Hall, is actively calling for a state fuel tax increase to fund roads and bridges.

Waller says his support is contingent on a related “tax swap” in the form of reduced income taxes, although his exact plans for accomplishing that “swap” have not been revealed.

The GOP gubernatorial race differences on a proposed gas tax hike are interesting in that Republican President Donald Trump has floated trial political balloons supporting a federal gas tax hike to fund infrastructure.

Leading Mississippi Democratic gubernatorial contender Jim Hood has rebuked the state’s GOP legislative leadership for failing to enact fuel tax hikes but has stopped short of full support of the tax hikes by suggesting that there are other ways to fund infrastructure construction and maintenance. Details of those “other ways” have not been circulated by Hood’s campaign.

If Mississippi is like the rest of the country, the top issues in the 2019 gubernatorial race are health care and jobs, but with over 500 bridges closed and numerous state roads in need of maintenance and repair the issue of road and bridge finance in Mississippi isn’t far down that list of issues.

It’s beyond interesting that many of the same political voices who spent decades shouting down the collection of internet sales and use taxes and enacting a state lottery are now loudly claiming that those initiatives are the very reasons Mississippi should avoid higher fuel taxes.

But Abney was right at Delta Council in calling for a sustainable, highway user-driven system of funding road and bridge maintenance through reasonable increases in both the federal and state fuel taxes. Not politically popular, mind you, but fiscally sound.

What impact, if any, the fuel tax issue has on the GOP primary may well prove negligible. But it is a key difference between frontrunner Reeves and Waller, perceived to be his closest GOP competitor.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lets be sure to raise the fuel tax enough to put bike lanes everywhere! An extra four feet of roadbed on both sides cannot cost that much.

Anonymous said...

Just by raising it 10 cents per gal on the state side it would
help tremendously.

Anonymous said...

If it goes to MDOT no thanks! You lose 50% off the top of every dollar that goes into that boondoggle

If it is dedicated to city and county roads, I support.

Anonymous said...

Common sense, which many of our politicians lack, requires that you maintain your assets in order to preserve their usefulness, like changing your car's oil. Any idiot should be for maintaining our transportation infrastructure, and a few cents per gallon is a no brainer tax increase. But our elected officials never listened to Dick Hall, so the Fed Ex guy wasted his time.

Anonymous said...

Moving forward requires that the way you do things changes. Unfortunately, that is not the way things are done in MS. Too many people making money the way things are.

Anonymous said...

They've never ridden on well-maintained roads.

Try the toll roads in Texas. Even the old ones like the Dallas North Tollway have great surfaces and dedicated service vehicles to clear the roadway of any debris, wrecks, or mishaps.

Better still, try driving in Europe. Even former Eastern Bloc countries like Hungary and Poland have very good roads these days. Of course, you do pay for them - both at the pump and via tax stickers that are required to drive on any freeways.

Anonymous said...

Oops, UPS, not Fed Ex....

Anonymous said...

500 bridges closed! Damn! And if the gas tax was increased, doubled even, it would not impact these 500 bridges - that are maintained by city and county governments who get ZERO dollars from the gas tax.

Commissioner Dick Hall has done a great job (with plenty of assistance from our 'press' who like any and all taxes - except of course taxes on newspapers) of obfuscation the issue by coming long city and county road conditions, city and county bridges, with his call for an increase in gas taxes. He never points out that such an increase would go only to MDOT so that the road builders will maintain their full employment status.

And it's no wonder that fully 30% of Waller's campaign account has come from road builders. They want only one thing - more money for more contracts, and know Waller is their best chance to get there.

Forget the 500 bridges - that will call for better management of your local tax dollars, not from paying more at the pump.

As to UPS, they are free to write an additional check to the feds or the state anytime they want to so that there will be more money for MDOT. But if the want better local streets and bridges, that 'extra check' needs to go to the city or county coffers.

Anonymous said...


Let's 1st figure why MDOT has a large Staff of Engineers who didn't-couldn't realize the spoil dirt on I-55 South project was used to create the shoulders of said Project. We had numerous MDOT vehicles on site when the "last" Project was done & didn't know this?
What about all the Equipment we buy each Year to mow Hwy ROW's but yet sits 2/3's of the time while 1 man throws asphalt "at" a hole and 4-5 men sit in trucks with Blinky lights going?
MDOT needs a true Leadership-Culture change. We can't keep hiring the neighbors, Political supporters that do Nothing.

Anonymous said...

7:10 you’re wrong, city and county’s do get a percentage of the gas tax

7;55, while I agree that MDOT may not be the most efficient, you’re off base with your comment about the 1 man throwing asphalt.
True it may look like only 1 man is working and the other trucks and men are waisted. But if you’ve ever worked in the interstate with your head 1 foot from vehicles traveling 70+ mph, driven by people who don’t have a clue as to what’s around them, you would understand the other trucks with blinky lights are there to take the impact instead of the “1 man”.

Anonymous said...

Mississippi is long overdue for reform.
Start with reforming the bidding process.
If we can't eliminate the Highway Commission , we should at least stop them from getting free resort vacations or hunting trips in the guise of meetings or delivering a speech or any free entertainment from those who would benefit from receiving a highway contract.
Of course, if we did that, they'd have nothing much to do. But, we might be able to prioritize our highway needs and efficiency build roads that are adequate for the expected traffic and well maintained.

Rod Knox said...

And speaking of the Highway Commission, does no one pay any attention to the $millions they waste on obviously outrageous spending? The $million Tupelo office was leveled because a roof leak resulted in black mold contamination and a new building costing more $millions was built. I wonder how many rural bridges could have been brought up to code with that money?

The press and media in this state are afraid to investigate even outrageous situations like that so the public remains in the dark.

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