TUPELO • Joe “Joey” Grist, the Democratic candidate for transportation commissioner in the northern district, announced his plan to improve the state’s crumbling infrastructure at a press conference Monday by saying the Mississippi Department of Transportation should primarily focus on awarding projects to in-state companies instead of awarding them to out-of-state companies.
Grist, a former state representative, hosted the press conference at Gateway Park. He is currently the purchasing director for the North Mississippi State Hospital and said he plans to use his expertise in purchasing to help Mississippi businesses navigate the bidding process.
“I am sick and tired of sending our money out of the state of Mississippi. Sixty-five million goes to trash,” Grist said while pointing to a patch of overgrown grass at the park. “Mowing our grass, picking up our trash. Thirty million of that goes to out of state corporations. I am sick and tired of that. I think we can hire Mississippi workers to do Mississippi work in Mississippi.”
Grist also said he wants to advocate that the state government stop giving large, out of state corporations tax exemptions in order to help offset the costs associated with infrastructure projects.
“The thing about it is, if you look in Louisiana and Kansas and other places, they gave all these tax exemptions and they liked to went broke,” Grist said. “They had to come back and raise taxes in both states and stuff like that. We need to keep our money here. Walmart did not ask for some of these tax exemptions.”
The election for the transportation commissioner in the northern district comes at a time when approximately 411 county-owned bridges in Northeast Mississippi have been posted with weight limits and when approximately 62 county-owned bridges have been closed after falling into disrepair.
Grist said he will advocate for improving Highway 7 South, Highway 8, Highway 15 and other road projects.
“Those are things that I think are just simple, common sense,” Grist said. “We need to know that we’re going to have a future.”
For fiscal year 2019, MDOT was appropriated a little over $1 billion by the Mississippi State Legislature. For fiscal year 2020, MDOT requested exactly $1 billion, which is less than the previous year. According to the Mississippi Legislative Budget Office, it is estimated for MDOT to receive a little under $1 billion, following a trend since 2016 of decreasing the number of dollars MDOT receives from the state legislature.
Even though the Mississippi State Legislature appropriates money to MDOT, none of the money MDOT receives comes out of the state’s general fund. MDOT receives funding through federal money and through gasoline taxes.
When asked how Grist planned to fund infrastructure projects with the decreased levels of funding, he said all funding options would be on the table.
“A lot of people are talking about the gas tax. One of the things about the gas tax is the gas tax makes it all fair because everyone who’s driving a car does that,” Grist said. “But, I don’t think that’s where we ought to start.”
Grist will face Republican nominee John Caldwell, a former Desoto County supervisor, in the general election on Nov. 5. Caldwell has campaigned on making sure North Mississippi receives its fair share of infrastructure projects and compiling a list of potential infrastructure projects for consideration.