JACKSON – Funding for a wide array of projects – ranging from major construction efforts on university and community college campuses to funds to help with a new roof at Church Street Elementary School in Tupelo – depends on House and Senate leaders reaching agreements on a bond bill by Saturday night.
Senate Finance Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, expressed optimism recently that an agreement can be reached between House and Senate negotiators. One was not reached during the 2017 session, resulting in a rare instance in recent years where the Legislature did not pass a bill authorizing bonds to pay over a period of years for construction projects.
“I am hearing a bond bill is possibly on life support,” said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. “I hope not. We need bonds. We have a lot of needs.”
House Ways and Means Vice Chairman Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, one of the negotiators, said that passing a bond bill is dependent on passing an overall transportation bill to deal with road and bridge deficiencies on both the state and local systems.
“They (transportation bill and bond bill) are tied together,” said Lamar saying the House is not interested in passing a bond bill that could fund certain projects unless there is a transportation bill that deals with problems statewide.
“The feeling of the House is that we are going to have a road plan or nothing at all,” Lamar said.
Efforts have been ongoing for about five years to pass a major transportation program.
Lamar said House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, met recently where he believed the issues of bonds and transportation were discussed, but he said the House and Senate negotiators had not started work yet on the issue as of Wednesday.
“We’re ready to negotiate,” Lamar said. “What we are not going to do is wait until 7 p.m. Saturday to start (negotiating.) We are going to prepare a reasonable and responsible proposal. We will make concessions.”
Both chambers have passed differing transportation plans that rely on diverting money from other programs, such as from education and health care, to transportation. There has been no consensus to raise taxes to pay for transportation needs.
One key portion of the House plan is to divert 35 percent of the use tax revenue (collected primarily on retail items purchased out-of-state) from the state general fund to local governments for transportation needs. The plan would divert about $110 million annually from education and other programs.
Lamar said House negotiators would be willing to phase in the diversion to lessen the impact on the state general fund.
The bond proposals being considered from Northeast Mississippi include $8 million to four-lane Mississippi 145 from the Mall at Barnes Crossing to Saltillo and $1 million in bond proceeds to place a roundabout at 145 and state Highway 348 in Guntown.
There would be projects at all eight public universities and 15 community colleges under consideration in a bond bill.