Special Session to Fund Roads, Bridges May Depend on U.S. Supreme Court

Gov. Phil Bryant said combining sports betting, online sales tax and state lottery revenues could come close to the needed amount to maintain the state's infrastructure funding.

Gov. Phil Bryant said combining sports betting, online sales tax and state lottery revenues could come close to the needed amount to maintain the state's infrastructure funding. Photo by Stephen Wilson.

Gov. Phil Bryant alluded to the possibility of a special session for infrastructure funding, if the U.S. Supreme Court allows states to start collecting use tax from online retailers.

Last week, he told reporters at the Capitol that he is watching how the U.S. Supreme Court decides the South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc. case, with a ruling expected this summer. If the high court reverses precedent from what is known as the Quill case, states can begin collecting use tax from online retailers. Currently, sales tax is only collected from brick-and-mortar retailers.

Many online retailers have started to collect the tax voluntarily. Amazon began collecting use tax from Mississippi shoppers last year, prompting Republican House leaders to propose several infrastructure funding legislative remedies that include diverting the new use tax to funds for roads and bridges.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has been skeptical about beginning to divert the use tax collected from online retailers to roads and bridges, citing constitutionality concerns in the past. But if the Supreme Court makes it legal, Bryant believes that is a green light for more road and bridge funding.

"(The Internet tax is) a tremendous amount of money that's being generated here in the state of Mississippi that we think could be identified for supporting infrastructure," Bryant said last week.

He also pointed to the Supreme Court's recent decision that allows states to legalize sports betting, which he said could generate around $30 million in revenue here in Mississippi. The governor also continues to support a state lottery.

"I believe a state lottery should be passed; I think we have the votes to do that," he said at the Capitol last week. "That could be anywhere between $70 (million) and $80 million. If you start putting those revenue numbers together, you're getting very close to the number I think that we need to support our infrastructure problems."

House Speaker Philip Gunn and Reeves could not come to an agreement about road and bridge funding during the 2018 legislative session, and following the session, Bryant was forced to close 83 bridges in the state after federal transportation officials threatened the state with losing federal funds if he did not.

Gunn does not support a lottery, and he formed a committee to study the lottery, which came to no legislative conclusion. The House body, however, successfully voted in favor of a state lottery this past session, although that provision was removed from the state gaming commission's budget bill in conference and did not become law. It is unclear how a lottery provision would hold up in the Senate, but Bryant said he had the votes in both chambers.

The Mississippi Economic Council released a report a few years ago estimating the state needs $375 million annually to repair and restore roads and bridges that have gone without upkeep since the last time the Legislature implemented a road program in 1987.

One proposal that will likely not come into play is raising the state's gasoline tax, which has remained flat since 1987 because it was not designed to adjust with inflation. Reeves has adamantly opposed tax increases, including on the gasoline tax. In April, Gunn proposed a "tax swap" that would eliminate the 4-percent income-tax bracket while increasing the gas tax.

Email state reporter Arielle Dreher at [email protected].


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