Special session making progress on roads and lottery

During Day 1 of the specially called legislative session, the Mississippi House passed a bill 108-5 that would divert millions in state dollars to cities and counties for infrastructure in coming years and adjourned until Friday. The Senate after a lengthy debate, also passed a bill to create a state lottery with a vote of 30-20.

Sen. Philip Moran, R-Kiln, who has been a strong advocate for a state lottery for years, introduced the first bill of the special session Thursday morning to create the lottery. The action brings Mississippi one step closer to permitting the game of chance.

However, members from both parties questioned the act's transparency.

Mississippi is just one of six remaining states without a lottery, and many Mississippi residents drive across the state line to Louisiana to purchase tickets.

Supporters have said a lottery will inject much needed funding and is estimated to generate $40 million in its first year and up to $80 million-a-year soon after.

As the measure stands, proceeds would be limited to the state Highway Fund until 2028, at which point money raised would go to the state’s general fund.

In 2015, a study funded by the Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, estimated Mississippi would need $375 million annually to make needed repairs to the state’s infrastructure.

In 2016, the Legislature passed the largest tax cut in state history, a $415 million tax cut to be phased in over a 10 year period.

The latest act creates the Mississippi Lottery Corp., which will be charged with running the lottery with the corporation's president reporting to a five-member board appointed by the governor, and will serve staggered five-year terms.

Before the bill came to the Senate floor, Republicans and Democrats questioned whether the legislation gives the governor too much influence.

Sen. Billy Hudson, R-Hattiesburg, questioned why the measure leaves the appointments at the governor’s discretion instead of ensuring representation from each congressional district.

“(Appointees) could come from the same town, the same church,” Hudson said, cautioning the setup could allow a governor to appoint “his buddies.”

Sen. John Horn, D-Jackson, sought an amendment encouraging the governor to make the board geographically diverse. The Senate voted 27-20 against the amendment.

Five additional amendments calling for changes ranging from having the lottery corporation based in Jackson to making the corporation's workers eligible for state retirement benefits also failed.

An amendment from Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, prohibiting board members and their families from having any financial interest in any vendors doing business with the corporations passed with leadership's approval.

Barring a motion to hold the bill, the House could act as soon as Friday

Also on Thursday, the House passed the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2018. It would:

  • Have the state borrow $300 million, with $50 million either going to specific projects or divided evenly among counties statewide and $250 million going into a special MDOT fund for emergency projects statewide.

  • Divert 35 percent of the state's 7 percent use tax on internet and out-of-state sales to cities, counties and the Local System Bridge Program. Currently, the use tax is generating about $320 million a year total. This spending would be phased in adding 25 percent a year over four years.

  • Split the use tax diversion 15 percent to cities, 15 percent to counties and 5 percent to the Local System Bridge Program.

  • Require counties to match the state use tax money dollar for dollar, but they would get credit for what they are already spending on infrastructure. Both cities and counties would have to continue to be spending roughly what they have been on infrastructure to receive the new state money.

  • Give Mississippi's roughly 300 cities $10,000 each "off the top" of the use tax diversion, then the rest would be allocated based on their sales tax collections and population.

  • Create a new tax on hybrid and electric cars. Electric auto owners would pay $150 a year, hybrid owners $75 a year. Some environmental and auto manufacturing interests oppose the measure.

  • Use newly legalized casino sports betting taxes for infrastructure. Lawmakers said this is likely to be a relatively small amount and cannot yet be determined.

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