Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Greenwood Commonwealth on road and bridge maintenance in the state:
Once the several-inch-thick coat of ice melts from the highways and roads of Mississippi, expect another hazard to take its place: potholes.
When water freezes and expands between the cracks of asphalt, the pressure breaks up the surface. Where potholes already exist, they will get larger. Where they don’t exist, new ones will form.
The situation is going to underline Mississippi’s longstanding neglect of road and bridge maintenance.
There are two efforts working at cross-purposes in the Legislature to deal with this problem.
One would be the proverbial “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” shifting money the Mississippi Department of Transportation now receives from the state lottery and giving it instead to counties and cities for local roads and bridges. The other would ask Mississippi voters later this year to approve a substantial increase in the fuel tax to pay for 20 specific state highway repair projects.
Both local and state infrastructure in Mississippi is in a bad state. Unlike local governments, though, the Mississippi Department of Transportation has historically had only one main funding source: the tax collected at the pump on gasoline and diesel purchases. That stream of revenue has been inadequate for decades, largely because the Legislature has steadfastly refused to raise the tax. Motorists today pay the same 18.4 cents per gallon to the state that they did in 1987, the last time the tax was adjusted. If lawmakers had just kept up with inflation, the tax today would be 43 cents per gallon.
Three years ago, lawmakers partially addressed that neglect by specifying that the first $80 million a year raised from the newly created lottery would go to MDOT. It was far short of what’s needed — estimates are it would take $350 million to $400 million extra in highway spending a year to catch up — but it was a start. Now some in the Senate want to take even that away.
It’s a terrible idea and should be shelved. Local governments do have major road and bridge needs, but they received special consideration from the state during that same legislative session that created the lottery. They were cut in for a 35% share of the state’s tax on internet sales, which is going to be steadily rising into the future. In addition, they always have the option to raise property taxes. Since city streets and county roads mostly benefit the residents who live there, these same residents have an obligation to help pay for taking care of them.
House Ways and Means Chairman Trey Lamar, meanwhile, may be onto something, although we don’t necessarily like the idea of pawning this decision off onto voters.
Lamar, a Republican from Senatobia, has authored a bill that would do two good things: immediately raise significant money for highway maintenance and repair, and put in place a mechanism to steadily increase funding for the long term.
His idea is to raise the tax on gasoline by 10 cents a gallon and by 14 cents on diesel, the proceeds of which would finance, probably over 20 years, the borrowing of $2.5 billion for road and bridge maintenance. Most of the proceeds would go to MDOT, but a $300 million slice would also be earmarked for counties and cities. In the meantime, starting in 2031, the fuel tax would also be adjusted annually to reflect the fact that the costs of road repair, like everything else, rise over time.
The weaknesses of Lamar’s approach are also twofold. The inflation adjuster he has in mind — no more than 1% a year — won’t keep up with inflation. And a basic function of government — keeping roads drivable — should not hinge on a popular vote.
But at least Lamar has put on the table more of a solution than others in his party have offered.
The Dispatch on first responders and the recent winter storm:
For most of us the winter storm that arrived Sunday and, like an unwelcome visitor, has lingered far too long, has been an inconvenience, a disruption, an irritation.
As we remained secure and safe in our homes, there were others for whom the storm required greater sacrifice.
Utility crews, particularly in Noxubee and South Lowndes counties, spent long, bitterly cold days repairing fallen power lines to restore service. Law enforcement responded throughout the days to calls about drivers who had crashed or slipped into ditches. Fire departments were on full alert for fires that often accompany cold weather.
Services such as HVAC technicians, tow truck drivers and plumbers worked long hours in brutal conditions to respond to potentially dangerous circumstances. Some may argue that they were “just doing their job,” but these workers also took on additional risk.
Many health care workers, already under stress from the pandemic, braved the conditions to report to work.
The demands on these folks and others will likely only increase as the thaw begins. Plumbers, especially, will be looking at some 12-hour days into the weekend, we suspect.
So, while your next utility bill will likely be higher than Willie Nelson on a Saturday night circa 1980, perhaps the thought of a chunk of that bill going to pay utility workers will ease the blow. Could anyone even suggest they didn’t earn it this week?
We should all pause for a moment and say thank you for all of those who kept us warm and safe in such conditions.
The Dispatch on helping those with delinquent utility bills by incentivizing a class that teaches residents how to be more energy efficient:
In the late 70s, when America found itself facing an energy crisis, a saying began to circulate: If there are no throw blankets on your sofa, you have your thermostat set too high.
Today, Americans face a different kind of crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic not only threatens our health, but for many of us, our finances, too. Job losses and reduction in work hours have left many struggling to keep the bills paid. Throw in extreme weather - like the cold front that is expected to arrive today - and the challenge is only intensified.
Starkville Utilities Manager Terry Kemp says that at any given time, 10 to 15 percent of his customers face delinquent utility bills. While no one can do anything about the weather, there are measures that can be taken to cut down on utility bills.
There are ways to save, but you have to know them.
Toward that end, Friends of J.L. King Center and Starkville Utilities, with help from TVA, are providing a weekly, one-hour class to help those who have fallen into delinquency find ways to make their homes more energy efficient.
While some measures can be expensive -- purchasing more energy-efficient appliances is one example -- there are many things people can do that cost little or nothing at all. Turning up or down the thermostat a few degrees, depending on the season is an example of that.
As an incentive to participate in these “Power Up” classes, anyone who attends the class is eligible to have their delinquent bill reduced, up to 50-percent in some cases.
That incentive, while appealing, isn’t the greatest benefit of the class. Future savings from implementing the measures taught in the class will, in the long run, produce far greater savings over time.
This instruction covers things such as weather stripping, insulation, weatherizing windows and doors, how LED light bulbs can reduce power usage and how water heaters and HVAC systems affect power usage.
Once participants complete the class, they will be partnered with a “mentor” to come to their residence and show them how to make energy-efficient changes. The mentor inspection is particularly helpful, since there are many, many things that can reduce energy usage that may not be obvious.
The J.L. King Center, Starkville Utilities and TVA are to be commended for providing this information.
We urge Starkville residents who are behind on their utility bills to take advantage of this opportunity, and we urge everyone to look for ways to improve efficiency at their homes and businesses.