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One gasoline tax increase bill dies, but others loom

By   /   March 16, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Photo illustration by Steve Wilson

ON THE RISE: Mississippi’s gasoline tax could increase if lawmakers have their way.

One bill that would’ve increased Mississippi’s gasoline tax is dead, but others still live ahead of Wednesday’s deadline for revenue bills to clear their own chamber.

Senate Bill 2859, by state Sen. Willie Simmons (D-Cleveland), would’ve placed an 8 percent tax on gasoline at the wholesale level. Simmons, chairman of the Highways and Transportation Committee, said the bill was dead after his committee voted to substitute in the text of a placeholder bill that highlights the relevant code sections in state law that would need to be changed to increase the state’s 18.79 cent per gallon gasoline tax.

Passing a placeholder bill allows the measure to clear Wednesday’s deadline and keep the general issue of a gas tax alive for debate later in the session, which is scheduled to end April 24.

“We wanted to get more support for our bill before we voted for a revenue increase,” Simmons said. “Whatever mechanism we bring forward, we want to make sure we have some sort of indication from the House and throughout the Capitol that this is something we can do. We’re going to continue to work on this.”

Two House bills that would increase the gasoline tax are still alive.

House Bill 1681, by state Rep. Robert Johnson III (D-Natchez), would pattern the state’s gasoline tax method after North Carolina’s. Johnson’s bill would put a 6 percent tax on gasoline at the wholesale level and reduce the tax at the retail level to 15 cents per gallon.

The state would determine the average wholesale gasoline price twice per year, on Jan. 1 and July 1, and calculate the tax by multiplying the price by 6 percent.

House Bill 1694, by David Myers (D-McComb), would increase the gas tax to 20 cents per gallon.

With all of the differing ideas, it seems like the two chambers are locked in a game of chicken, with the loser deciding to be the first to pass a tax increase. But Simmons said rather than being a stare down between the chambers, it was an opportunity to compromise.  

“I see it as an opportunity for us to engage, communicate and try to work to come to something,” Simmons said. “We’re not in a position where we (the Senate) feel like we have to be the author of it. We want to get something done. The outcome is the most important thing.”

Related: Governor proposes gas tax increase coupled with working class tax cut

Mississippi residents pay 37.19 cents in state and federal taxes on every gallon of gasoline, about 11 cents a gallon less than the national average. The state’s gas tax was last increased in 1987. The federal gas tax has been 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993.

Mississippi Economic Council president and CEO Blake Wilson told a joint meeting of the House and Senate transportation committees in February that state highways need $375 million more annually. MDOT executive director Melinda McGrath told the joint committee in February that her department needs $526 million in additional funding annually.

According to a December MEC report on the condition of the state’s highways, every 1 cent increase in the gas tax would yield $21.7 million annually, while a 5 cent increase in the sales tax would add $177.8 million. Each $10 increase in the state’s license tag fee would reap $27.5 million each year.

Related: MEC wants a tax increase to fund highways

In fiscal 2016, which ends June 30, the state spent more than $216 million on highway maintenance and $932 million on new construction. The Mississippi Department of Transportation has asked the Legislature for $216 million for maintenance and $792 million in new construction for fiscal 2017.

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Steve Wilson is the Mississippi reporter for Watchdog.org. Beginning his career as a sports writer, he has worked for the Mobile Press-Register (Ala.), the LaGrange Daily News (Ga.), Highlands Today (Fla.),McComb Enterprise-Journal (Miss.), the Biloxi Sun Herald(Miss.) and the Vicksburg Post (Miss.) Steve's work has appeared on Fox News, the Huffington Post and the Daily Signal. His bachelor's degree is in journalism with a minor in political science from the University of Alabama. Steve is also a member of the Mississippi Press Association and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He served four-plus years in the United States Coast Guard after his high school graduation and is a native of Mobile, Ala.