Lives and jobs

By Staff
June 19, 2004
Good roads, railways, bridges and airports save lives and create jobs. As one of the conferees charged with reconciling the respective Senate and House versions of a highway bill which will set the nation's transportation policy for the next six years, I'm pushing very hard to shape this legislation into a law fair for Mississippi's taxpayers.
With lives and jobs at stake, Congress should pass this bill before we adjourn. Few things, aside from national defense, take higher priority than the federal government's obligation to transportation.
One of my top priorities in this highway conference is to increase our state's reimbursement from the National Highway Trust Fund, which is fed by your gasoline taxes. Every gas tax dollar paid nationally at the pump goes to Washington.
Donor state
Mississippi is a "donor" state because Mississippi only gets a portion of each gas tax dollar back to build, repair or improve our highways. In 1998 when the last six-year transportation bill was passed a bill called the "Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century" or "TEA-21" I was able to increase Mississippi's gas tax reimbursement from about 84 percent to almost 91 percent.
This time, I'm working to increase this return to 95 percent or as close as possible by the new bill's expiration.
The historic reasons for Mississippi being a donor state vary. Basically the rationale went something like this: States with big populations and a lot of roads and vehicles need more money than they contribute in order to meet their high-volume transportation needs.
Ironically, states with big land masses and small, scattered, populations argue that their small gas tax collections and vast road distances mean they can't possibly meet their transportation needs without taking more from the trust fund than they give.
So, what we have is a strange alignment of high population states, mostly in the Northeast, and low-population states, mostly in the West, getting back many more gas tax dollars than they contribute.
This is unfair to states like Mississippi. Our state remains poor. It's not right to ask financially struggling Mississippians to subsidize roads in states like New York, New Jersey, South Dakota or Pennsylvania. The federal funding formula for the Highway Trust Fund must be more fair to Mississippi, a state struggling to create jobs and overcome historic poverty.
Highways, bridges and airports provide the essential foundation for economic development and job growth, giving folks in poverty more opportunity and more hope. Mississippi received about $2 billion in federal highway formula funds between 1998 and 2003, and we're poised to get much more if Congressman Chip Pickering and I, as conferees on this legislation, can preserve the increase for donor states provision contained in the Senate version of this latest highway bill.
Diesel fuel tax
I'm also working to repeal the 4.3 cents-per-gallon federal tax on diesel fuel paid by railroads and those who operate barges on inland waterways. Since December of 1990, freight railroads and barge operators have paid this tax as part of a "deficit reduction" plan.
Similar taxes paid by airlines and truck operators were redirected in 1997. Since then, railroads and barge operators have been the only industries paying the "deficit reduction" fuel tax, adding to their costs and harming businesses who rely on them to remain healthy and create jobs.
A final priority for this bill is to keep Congressional spending in check. I'm very concerned with Congress' spendthrift ways of late. We cannot let this very important bill get too bloated with items that could dilute the bill's basic purpose, which is to provide the groundwork for all federal transportation policy for the next six years.
I know that increasing Mississippi's share of highway funds, curtailing unfair taxes and controlling spending is a tall order, but every transportation bill Congress considers has the capacity to save lives and create new jobs. It's a responsibility Congress and the President must never take lightly. It's a promise that we must always keep.
Contact Sen. Trent Lott at 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510.

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