NEW ALBANY • Two candidates seeking the Northern District Transportation Commissioner seat disagreed Monday over how to deal with the state’s crumbling infrastructure, with one candidate not ruling out raising taxes.
Republican candidate Geoffrey Yoste, a contractor in Oxford, told voters at a campaign forum on Monday that the state’s transportation infrastructure is the largest problem the state faces. He said the Department of Transportation must work closely with the state legislature on the issue – even if that means raising the state’s gasoline tax.
All options are on the table,” Yoste said when asked about increasing the gas tax. “Everything’s got to be considered.”
Yoste said the state’s transportation budget has been the same for the past 20 years, and it’s time to increase that budget.
On the other hand, John Caldwell, a former DeSoto County supervisor, told the same Union County group that officials should stop talking about the gas tax and re-evaluate potential infrastructure projects.
“We’re way ahead of ourselves,” Caldwell said. “I haven’t seen the list of roads that justifies a gas tax,” Caldwell said. “We need to start looking at the list (of projects) and what needs to be done and take care of this entire Northern District. Then, we can start talking about how we fund it.”
Currently the state’s gasoline tax sits at over 18 cents per gallon, which is one of the lowest in the nation.
The differing opinions come at a time when nearly 500 bridges in the state have been closed because of disrepair and when many have criticized the current condition of the state’s road system.
Even though both candidates pledged to expand and repair the state’s transportation infrastructure, neither candidate offered specifics on which projects they would prioritize.
Yoste said he would sit down and meet with the lieutenant governor and speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives to discuss road improvements and spending measures.
“I plan to sit down with them and provide them with any assistance we can give them and work with the committee members to come up with a comprehensive solution,” Yoste said.
Caldwell said he would prioritize projects by listening to local elected officials and citizens that live in the area, instead of going directly to legislators with a plan.
“I like common sense solutions,”Caldwell said. “If we listen to the people who live and work and drive those roads, then we can go to Jackson to the people that are representing those people that live and work and drive those roads and make a difference.”
The two candidates will face three other Republican opponents in the primary election: Jeremy Martin, Trey Bowman and E.A. Hathcock.
The winner of the Republican primary will go on to face Joey Grist, the lone Democrat in the race, on Nov. 5.