This is a simple concept.
If Mississippi wants better roads, Mississippians will have to pay for the upgrade. And yet, here we are, several years into a road debate with little progress made on our roads and no long-range vision for how to pay for the upgrade nor how to maintain them so we don't have to repeat this process 30 years from now.
There is no denying that some of our roads and bridges are in sorry shape. And it does not matter if they are state roads and bridges, county roads and bridges or city roads and bridges, eventually they will either be repaired or closed. Dozens of bridges already have been shut down. And, taxpayers somehow, someway will pay.
Now, we have before us something of a windfall. A recent Supreme Court ruling means the state will see a boost in internet sales tax revenue.
Granted, the state has many needs. We believe our roads and bridges are the most pressing.
In the much-cited Reason annual highway assessment, Mississippi dropped from 10th to 11th place in the United States. That's not a big drop but it's a step in the wrong direction. And every day, the problem will get a little worse, a little more expensive to fix.
Internet sales could add up to $125 million to the state's budget over the next two fiscal years. Sports betting, which will begin later this year in Mississippi casinos, could raise the new revenue collected even higher.
All of it should go toward repairing and maintaining roads and bridges and it should be spent first on the roads and bridges that are in the worst shape — regardless of the governmental jurisdiction they're under.
Unfortunately, those millions will be far short of the amount needed.
Mississippi got so far down this road to nowhere by failing to make tough choices. The easy choice is to cut taxes, always popular with many voters, and assure them the problem will take care of itself next year. Next year, our leaders say, we'll have more money. Next year, they say, we'll have a long-term plan for the upkeep of the state's transportation system.
Next year, though, never seems to come.
So, we'll likely have a special session of the Legislature and, we hope, plug some holes in the road and bridge budgets across the state. It is unfortunately, the best we can hope for.
But we need more than a makeshift plan to fix a bare minimum of roads and to put off needed road-building. We need a plan to not only fix the roads and bridges that are the most in need of repair, we need leaders who will decide just how smooth our roads will be, how safe our bridges will be. And then determine how best to raise the money to get those roads smooth and keep them smooth.
It would be a sound investment and one that would pay dividends as new businesses and industries look for states with roads and bridges that will help them get their products to market. Roads and bridges their leaders wouldn't mind driving down.