Opinion: State infrastructure bill increases local involvement

Posted on Mar 19 2018 - 5:55am by Josh Baker

This month, Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves submitted a bill for the “BRIDGE” Act, or the “Building Roads, Improving Development, and Growing the Economy Act.”

Primary funding for this legislation comes from the recently proposed issuance of new bonds to pay for these projects. The bill will be returning to the Senate this week pending negotiation.

This bill would bring noticeable change in infrastructure quality to places like Corinth, Ripley and especially Jackson because the majority of the funds will be diverted to the capital’s metro area.

Originally, funding for the bill was earmarked to come from the state’s “rainy day fund,” which is set aside for natural disasters or times of emergency. However, criticism of this funding method led to the proposal of a billion-dollar bond issuance that is now part of the BRIDGE Act.

In the latest round of voting by the House, a previously included provision giving the governor, rather than the Mississippi Department of Transportation, power over the fund was removed, while an additional provision was also tacked on this round of voting by the House.

This add-on legislation requires an additional $110 million in tax revenue to be placed into the BRIDGE Act fund, diverting much-needed dollars from public education, healthcare and law enforcement.

It is now apparent that this bill will increase the importance of local elections, because voters will have to choose who they think will responsibly use these newly designated funds for their communities.

The removal of $110 million of tax revenue from public services also indicates that these legislators now have no intention of raising taxes to counteract the decrease in tax revenue as a result of this diversion. They simply have no incentive to raise taxes for existing expenses after having diverted the funds to cover the bill’s expensive price tag, which is above and beyond the expenditures of the BRIDGE Act that are covered by the new bond issuance.

Mississippi’s government has a history of being too conservative with its tax policy, as evidenced by the recent cut of state corporate taxes, leading to a decrease in state revenue, with no government investments to counteract that cut. This corporate tax cut came in response to a wave of other states doing the exact same thing as a way to incentivize big corporations to focus more on their respective states.

The proposed BRIDGE Act does address a problem many mayors and local officials have been highlighting for years: the need for local governments to take responsibility for their communities’ infrastructures. How this proposed legislation will impact state and local politics remains to be seen.

Josh Baker is a freshman finance major from Houston.