JACKSON – Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said Thursday he would consider including the enactment of a lottery in an upcoming special session with the proceeds being used for transportation needs if the Mississippi Economic Council would support the idea.
“I was interested in identifying it (lottery revenue) as a possible source for infrastructure…,” Bryant said Thursday after an event in the state Capitol. “The state chamber of commerce, MEC, would need to step forward and help lead in that effort.
“If they’re not concerned, if they’re not supportive of a state lottery for the single purpose of infrastructure, then more than likely, it will not be on the call.”
The governor has the authority to set the call (agenda) for special sessions.
Scott Waller, the interim chief executive officer of MEC, confirmed his group has been in discussions with the governor over the lottery issue.
“We have discussed the issue and are looking into getting information about it,” Waller said.
He said the MEC hopes to have information on how much revenue for the state a lottery would generate and what other economic impacts a lottery might have on the state.
He said there is a possibility the MEC could have the information and take a position on the issue before the special session the governor has called for June 5.
It is clear that the special session agenda will include budgets for office of Attorney General, the Department of Transportation and the state Aid Road Program, which provides state funds to help counties with the upkeep of their major roadways. It is not clear what other issues might be added to the call by Bryant.
The House, with the support of its leadership, at the end of the 2017 session in March killed the budget bills for the Department of Transportation and the state Aid Road Program to try to convince the Senate leadership to consider options for providing additional funds for transportation. A 2015 MEC study advocated spending an additional $375 million annually on transportation needs.
The issue of transportation funding is becoming more entangled in the issue of the lottery. Mississippi is one of only six states without a lottery.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, who is opposed to the lottery, has formed a study committee to look at the impact of a lottery on the state. On Thursday, Bryant referred to the House committee as “the anti-lottery” committee.
Nathan Wells, of the speaker’s office, said if Bryant includes the lottery in the call (agenda) for the special session, “we will deal with it,” although he said the speaker would rather delay the possibility of considering a lottery until more information is gleaned on its impact.
In the meantime, the House leadership on Thursday sent to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, numerous recommendations on how to raise additional funds for transportation needs.
Those ideas include:
- Enacting a local option fuel Tax (LOFT) where local governments could put before their voters a proposal to increase their fuel tax to deal with local road woes.
- Placing a moratorium on new road construction, instead focusing on the upkeep and maintenance of existing roads and bridges. The Department of Transportation has said that most new road construction already has been stopped because of the need to use the limited state fund for badly needed maintenance and updating.
- Removing civil service protection for the Department of Transportation to make it easier for the agency to reorganize and increase efficiencies.
- Using a portion of casino taxes already directed to transportation needs to issue bonds to speed up road work.
- Passing other bond bills.
- Directing a portion of the sales tax voluntarily collected by online retailers to transportation needs.
- Directing a portion of revenue growth to transportation needs.
Wells estimated that the proposals could generate about $175 million for transportation, not counting the local option fuel tax. It is difficult to say how many local governments would impose the tax.
Wells added the House would be open to any proposal offered by the Senate. It is clear, though, that there is no consensus in either chamber to increase the 18.4-cent per gallon fuel tax to generate more money for transportation.
Laura Hipp, a spokeswoman for Reeves, said, “Out of respect for Gov. Bryant’s authority to set the agenda for the special session, the lieutenant governor sees no reason to comment on ideas that are not likely to be part of any call. Until told otherwise, he expects to pass the appropriation bills as agreed to by House and Senate conferees during the regular session.”
Waller said he is encouraged that multiple options are being considered to deal with what the MEC and others have identified as a major problem – the deteriorating condition of the state’s roads and bridges.