Bridge Deficiencies Need Urgent Attention
February 28 was an active deadline day with committees passing general and constitutional measures from the other chamber or the bills would go no further in the process. Several favored bills died for the session.
Currently, the only vehicle left to produce money for road and bridge repair is a measure providing authority for $50 million in bonds for county and municipal governments for road and bridge projects.
On Friday, it was announced that federal inspectors have ordered over 100 bridges closed because they were too damaged for travel. The MDOT has identified over 4,000 bridges as deficient. This is an urgent situation that should be addressed sooner rather than later. I believe that it is indeed possible to attend to the state’s transportation needs, even in times of financial austerity. We need the courage necessary to move forward.
The Mississippi Economic Council came to the Capitol last week to draw attention to their studies and support of a comprehensive road and bridge repair program, “Roads Matter.” This group estimates that it would take about $375 million in order to address the infrastructure issues. It is clear that we must “think outside the box.” Roads and bridges are in dire condition; the budget is being cut over and over.
We are hearing now that there may be a special session called to address the specific issue of considering a lottery to ease the current pressures on the budget. Regardless of whether a special session is called, I am working toward a constitutional initiative to create a lottery for Mississippi that will provide funding for transportation and education. Expect more to come on this effort.
We were happy to see some bills die. Among those were House Bill 974, which removed most state employees from civil service protections. House Bill 555, which attempted to restrict the Attorney General’s ability to go after wrongdoers on behalf of the state also died.
It is important to note that we are in the final stretch of the session, and still have no firm grip on the budget situation. Yes, bills have been passed that appropriate funds, and bills also have been passed that spend funds, and some even go into debt through bonds, but the central piece of the budget is still missing. That is the education piece.
It is widely known that a new proposal for an education funding formula is being crafted behind closed doors. We fully expect that this bill will be brought out in a rush during a special session, and we will be expected to pass it without much study or contemplation. This is not a wise course of action for something as important as the financial stability of our public schools. I was serving when the MAEP was passed. We believed it to be a solid structure for assuring our public schools would have adequate funding. I still believe it is. If it were fully funded for several consecutive years, only then would we be able to genuinely say that it needs revamping, if it doesn’t work.
We are looking forward to seeing a group of educators, their students and families at the Capitol on March 16. This will be an opportunity for us to hear directly from the people in the trenches about what is needed for excellence in our education system.
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