Mississippi farmers and ranchers should begin to see an increase in the maintenance and repair of the roads and bridges they use to get products to market.
Mississippi lawmakers created a lottery to fund highways, increased state transportation aid for cities and counties, and divided $750 million in oil spill damages during a five-day special session that wrapped up Wednesday.
“We appreciate everything our state law makers did in this special session to aid road and bridge repairs throughout the state,” Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Mike McCormick said. “By helping the repair progress of our roads and bridges, you help our farmers get their products from field to market.”
The Mississippi House reversed itself Tuesday and passed a bill to create a state lottery with 58 in favor and 54 opposed, less than 24 hours after the House originally voted to kill the bill. The lottery bill passed the Senate Monday night, but it failed initially in the House with 60 opposed and 54 in favor.
Mississippi is one of six states without a lottery, and Gov. Phil Bryant had been pushing lawmakers for more than a year to create one. Supporters estimate a lottery could generate tens of millions of dollars annually, and Bryant says he wants the money to help pay for repairs to crumbling highways and bridges.
“This is a historic day in Mississippi,” Bryant said on Twitter. “Mississippi lawmakers rose to the occasion and passed the last part of a sustainable infrastructure funding mechanism that will also provide additional money for public education.”
Supporters said it would take at least a year to get a lottery up and running. The Legislature earmarked $80 million a year from the lottery for the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s Emergency Bridge Repair Fund. Any revenue exceeding $80 million a year will go to the Mississippi Department of Education’s Education Enhancement Fund.
The Legislature concluded the session with a 99-10 House vote in favor of Senate Bill 2002, which sends 75 percent of economic damages being paid by BP PLC to Mississippi’s six southernmost counties –Harrison, Hancock, Jackson, George, Stone and Pearl River. The measure also includes more than $100 million in earmarked projects for local areas.
Lawmakers have already spent $52.4 million of the $750 million BP is paying to make up for lost tax revenue from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Most of that money has been spent on coastal projects.
Legislators agreed to take another $61 million for earmarked projects in Senate Bill 2002, combining it with the $50 million borrowed from the revenue bond measure in the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2018.
The earmarked project list has $7.5 million for railroad improvements statewide and $1 million for railroad crossing safety projects statewide. The remaining amount is earmarked for 128 projects in counties across the state.
The Mississippi Development Authority, advised by people appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and House Speaker, will recommend grants from the coast money for lawmakers to approve each year. Lawmakers themselves will decide how to spend the remaining $10 million a year.