TUPELO • Multiple bills in the state Senate take aim at the state transportation department’s $80 million cut of lottery money, including one bill backed by a Marshall County lawmaker.

Sen. Neil Whaley, R-Potts Camp, has signed on as a cosponsor to Senate Bill 2825, which would increase trucking weight limits for agricultural haulers while also diverting the first $80 million in lottery revenue from the state’s highway fund into an emergency repair fund for cities and counties.

Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, has also filed a bill that would do much the same thing regarding the lottery money, which was designated for the Mississippi Department of Transportation during the 2018 special session that created the lottery.

Both bills contain a clause that would revert state statute back to the current status quo after three years.

Some of the state’s elected highway commissioners have voiced concern about these legislative proposals.

“I’m not a fan of the bill as it’s written,” said the Northern District Transportation Commissioner John Caldwell, a Republican. “I think we need to be increasing the amount of money the Transportation Commission gets from the lottery, not decreasing it.”

Central District Commissioner Willie Simmons, a Democrat, voiced his own misgivings. He believes the local governments that stand to benefit from increased emergency repair funding will ultimately suffer if the state’s highway systems degrades.

“It would be a tragedy and a big mistake, even for local governments, to fund one aspect of infrastructure but not fund the whole,” said Simmons

Both Simmons and Caldwell said the three-member highway commission have taken the lottery money and prioritized two-lane highways for upgrades.

Both SB 2825 – authored by Sen. Jennifer Branning, R-Philadelphia, and cosponsored by Whaley – and Sojourner’s SB 2877 have cleared committee, but must pass the full Senate by Thursday in order to advance.

Either piece of legislation, if passed, would revise the funding menu created for state and local transportation infrastructure during the 2018 special session.

The 2018 session did the following, among other things:

  • Created the lottery and earmarked the first $80 million in revenue for MDOT for 10 years, with any money above that threshold going for education needs.
  • Diverted 35% of the state’s use tax – essentially an internet sales tax – to local governments for infrastructure needs.
  • Created an Emergency Road and Bridge Repair fund with $250 million allocated from bond debt.

The bill by Whaley and Branning is of additional concern to the elected highway commissioners because of its weight limit increases for harvest permit haulers, from 84,000 to 88,000 pounds. The increase would go into effect in 2023.

“I know the intent of the legislation is to allow our farmers to haul larger loads, but in particular for the loggers to haul larger loads, but our roads are not built for that capacity,” Simmons said. “By taking care of the logging industry, we will devastate our roads.”

caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com

Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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