Pickering, officials talk needs
Increasing funding for roads and help with a new industrial parkhighlighted a Tuesday meeting between Third District U.S. Rep. ChipPickering and community officials.
Pickering, R-Miss., said the purpose of the meeting was to hearBrookhaven and Lincoln County officials’ priorities and concerns asCongress prepared to go back into session later this month. Thecongressman said reauthorization of the federal highway bill, whichis done every five or six years, will be on the agenda.
“We should have reauthorized it last year, but we simplyextended it,” Pickering said.
Pickering said one of his goals with the bill is to re-indexgasoline tax revenue to divide it more equally among the states.Currently, he said, Mississippi is a “donor state.”
“We give more to Washington in gas tax than we get back,”Pickering said.
Pickering said Mississippi currently receives about 90 centsback for every gasoline tax dollar it sends to Washington. Thattranslates to about $330 million a year, but Pickering wants thatincreased to $350-$400 million.
Lincoln County supervisors would like to see a higher percentageof federal dollars directed to counties.
“That’d help the counties a lot,” said District Three SupervisorNolan Earl Williamson.
Since earlier efforts to increase Mississippi’s share,Williamson said the state allocation of federal gasoline tax hadincreased by a much greater percentage than the amount to counties.Pickering said there may need to be a directive in the federallegislation regarding the amount coming to the local level.
District Two Supervisor Bobby J. Watts agreed about the need forcounty assistance.
“We’ve got a lot of roads, and we’re going backwards,” Wattssaid in regards to the county’s ability to maintain them.
Brookhaven Ward Four Alderman Bob Massengill questioned thepossibility of federal assistance with new industrial park plans.The alderman was confident the city and county would be able to gettogether to purchase the needed land.
“That’s only the down payment,” said Massengill, indicating thatinfrastructure assistance would still be needed.
Pickering said there were three possible sources of help: RuralDevelopment, the Commerce Department in the form of an economicdevelopment grant, or an economic development initiative throughVeterans Affairs/Housing and Urban Development (VA/HUD). He saidthe VA/HUD approach had been used well around the state.
“It’s pretty much at Congress’ discretion,” Pickering said.
However, the congressman cautioned that funding is becomingtighter due to Homeland Security issues.
“We can still help through that account, but how much will bethe question,” Pickering said.
With presidential and congressional elections this year,Pickering said the session would be short and faster-paced. Heencouraged community officials to submit project priorities asquickly as possible.
County officials said they are formulating their priorities nowand would likely to making a trip to Washington to discuss them inearly February. Chandler Russ, chamber of commerce executivevice-president, said the chamber is also developing a list ofpriorities for state and federal legislative issues.
With Republican Haley Barbour taking office as governor,Pickering was optimistic about good working relationship betweenofficials at all levels.
“We want to work as a team, from the federal to the state to thelocal,” Pickering said.