Higher fuel tax needed

Published 9:49 am Friday, May 12, 2017

Republicans in the Mississippi Legislature are so determined to avoid raising taxes for highway maintenance that they’re willing to give up some of their cherished authority.

The easy and obvious solution to the highway funding problem — brought on by higher construction costs and declining revenue due to more fuel-efficient vehicles — is to raise the state gasoline tax.

Mississippi has taxed fuel sales at 18.4 cents per gallon for the past 30 years, and the money the tax brings in today isn’t keeping up with the state’s highway needs.

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Of course, nobody likes higher taxes. But leaving things as they are will lead to a slowly deteriorating highway network, one which the state invested billions to build.

House Speaker Philip Gunn and other lawmakers released a list of proposals last week to pay for improved highways and bridges that includes everything but a higher fuel tax. The most comical idea is to allow cities and counties to hold referendums to see which voters would raise fuel taxes in their areas.

For several years a number of cities have asked Republican lawmakers for permission to increase the sales tax in their town to pay for specific projects, such as street paving.

The cities have been willing to hold a referendum to get voter approval, but the anti-tax legislative majority is relentlessly opposed. The only local-option taxes it has been willing to consider are those on hotels and restaurants to fund tourism-promotion efforts.

Fair enough. But now they want to let each city or county vote on fuel taxes? This seems like an idea intentionally set up to fail.

Why would any set of voters in one city or county approve a fuel tax increase when they know very well that voters a few miles away might reject it? Where’s the fairness in that?

— The Greenwood Commonwealth