JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi should block corporate tax cuts and put money into fixing transportation system problems, Democratic leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature said Friday.
"One of the most basic functions of government is to provide safe roads and bridges," Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Derrick Simmons of Greenville said during a Capitol news conference.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant this week ordered more than 100 locally maintained bridges to be closed because the structures are dangerously deteriorated and the state faces the possible loss of federal money.
The governor has said he will call legislators into special session if the House and Senate can agree on transportation funding. Negotiations hit a dead end during the nearly three-month regular session that ended in late March.
The House Democratic Caucus chairman, Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis, said Republican leaders are excluding Democrats from negotiations on a long-term plan to pay for transportation.
Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn on Thursday proposed a plan that includes a gasoline tax increase in exchange for an income tax decrease, directing the gas tax to transportation.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a fellow Republican who presides over the Senate, responded that he wants to reduce what people pay in income tax, but he opposes any increase in the state gasoline tax, which has been 18.4 cents a gallon since the late 1980s.
Democratic Rep. Jarvis Dortch of Jackson said a gas tax increase would hurt the working poor.
"When you cut $450 million in corporate taxes the last four or five years, it's obscene to ask the low-income folks in this state to pay for the functions of government," Dortch said Friday. "That's pretty much what the speaker is proposing.... He wants to shift the responsibilities to poor folks in Mississippi."
Democrats intend to hold at least one meeting to hear from city and county government leaders, engineers and school administrators who have to deal with the safety challenges of questionable roads and bridges, Baria said.
"We need people who drive school buses to tell us how difficult it is for them to drive those routes and how many bridges they have to drive around," he said.
Jones County School District Superintendent Tommy Parker said 41 of the district's 130 school bus routes will have to be revised because 23 bridges are being closed in the county, WDAM-TV reported.