February 20, 2018 10:49:36 AM
There are 174 people who serve in the Mississippi legislature, folks from all walks of life.
What we can assume about them, collectively, is that none of them do the shopping back home, for they just don't seem to understand how it works.
Monday, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves unveiled the Senate's plan to address the critical state of Mississippi's roads and bridges. The 300-page bill, which apparently no one has actually read -- including, perhaps, some of the people who wrote it -- will go to a vote on Wednesday, which means the legislators will have to read 150 pages a day to get through the bill in time for the vote. That's a lot of reading for this bunch.
The plan calls for the state to allocate $200 million annually in revenue and bonds over a five-year period to address the problem, a cool $1 billion.
Only in Mississippi does a politician call a press conference to announce at $1 billion solution to a $3.75 billion problem.
That's some magical thinking, folks. During his press conference, Reeves took special care to put an emphasis on that figure -- ONE BILLION DOLLARS, as it if were an awesome thing even to imagine.
Granted, a $1 billion outlay by the legislature is nothing to sneer at, especially for a body whose plan to fund public education appears to be built around a series of bake sales and car washes.
It is also surprising to realize that the state has that sort of money to throw around, particularly since it has been crying poverty for years now. We've been told we don't have enough money to fund our schools, improve our mental health services, expand Medicaid, etc. Who knew the state had this kind of cash stuffed in the sofa cushions?
It would be both unfair and inaccurate to call the plan Reeves and his Senate underlings are offering a half-measure.
It's more like a one-third measure -- and even that's being generous.
In December 2014, the Mississippi Economic Council released its report on the state of Mississippi's road and bridges. The study provided a detailed account of every unsafe, state-maintained bridges in the state -- 562 of them as well as pointing out the desperate need for repairs/resurfacing of state roads.
The study, called Excelerate Mississippi, was conducted by the University of Southern Mississippi's Center for Logistics, Trade and Transportation, Mississippi State University's Stennis Institute of Government, and MSU's Industrial & Systems Engineering Department and the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems. Other research was funded through private sector donations. Cambridge Systematics, a private sector consulting firm, analyzed all data provided from the research teams.
So this wasn't a study slapped together by a bunch of road/bridge contractors looking for a way to make some bucks on the state dime.
The study concluded that the state would need to spend $375 million annually for 10 years to put the state's roads and bridges in good working order. That's $3.75 billion.
The legislature, which convened for the 2015 session just two months after the report was released, addressed the matter as it often does -- by ignoring it. The same was true in 2016 and 2017.
Now, at last, the legislature is addressing the issue in another time-honored fashion -- under-funding it.
Imagine a legislator going to a car dealership to buy a new pick-up and being told it cost $45,000.
"Everyone knows a pick-up should cost $15,000," the legislator says, "so that's what I'm going to spend. Now, give me the keys."
Sorry, Senator, that's not how things work out here in the real world.
It won't work in the real world of road/bridge repair, either. Some roads and bridges will be repaired, certainly. Which ones? When? How will that be determined? Who will the winners and losers be? What role will politics and lobbying play in those decisions?
The solution offered Monday -- fixing a $3.75 billion problem with $1 billion in funding -- creates the illusion of a solution, which is often enough to run a political campaign on as long as the voters aren't paying attention.
On the bright side, in five years our state's roads and bridges will be one-third less crappy as they are now.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]