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Lawmakers should do what’s best for the state

The Associated Press reported this week that Mississippi lawmakers are at odds over increasing the state’s fuel tax. That’s no surprise, given that Republicans had a hard time agreeing on much this past legislative session.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is adamantly opposed to any sort of tax increase, as he said this week and also months ago when he visited Brookhaven.

“I am a Republican. I am a conservative. I am against raising gas taxes,” Reeves said.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, a fellow Republican, is backing something he calls a tax swap that would increase the fuel tax over several years while also eliminating the 4 percent income tax bracket. Gunn said the plan would take about as much money out of the state budget as it would put in, but would direct more cash to infrastructure.

“This money belongs to the citizens, and the citizens expect us to use it to address the things that are important to them and to address their needs,” Gunn said. “And we, in the House, believe that roads (are) the function of government.”

Given that Gov. Phil Bryant just ordered the closure of more than 100 locally maintained bridges statewide, including four more in Lincoln County, it should be obvious that infrastructure spending should be a priority.

Reeves proposed a $1 billion infrastructure plan earlier in the year but couldn’t get his Republican colleagues to go along with it. Bryant may call legislators into special session at some point to consider a long-term plan to pay for transportation. Gunn said House leaders are sending their proposal to the governor and Reeves as a way to restart House-Senate discussions, AP reported.

The state is going to have to spend more to maintain roads and bridges, and without borrowing a ton or generating more revenue through a tax increase, it’s unclear how that will happen. A fuel tax increase is the most logical way to generate revenue for infrastructure needs. Taking out a loan might be necessary as well.

Either way, this hope that it can happen without raising taxes or borrowing money seems unrealistic. Lawmakers will have to find the courage to do what’s best for the state, even if it’s not what is best for their re-election efforts.