Mississippi lawmakers met Sunday and neared final approval of House Bill 1630, which would use $36 million a year in casino taxes mainly to rebuild deficient bridges on state highways.
Lawmakers agreed after casinos opened to use that revenue stream for road projects to improve access to casinos. But with those projects completed and bonds mostly paid off, the money in recent years has been flowing to the state Department of Transportation to spend as it wants.
Under a conference report between to the House and Senate released Saturday, House authorizes $200 million in bonds for bridge repairs, lower than the $400 million proposed earlier. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said the total amount was lowered because of fellow Republican and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ opposition to borrowing. In 2012, the first year of Reeves’ term, he refused to agree to any bond bill.
Smith said House Bill 1630 has become tied to Senate Bill 2906, which would grant borrowing authority for universities, community colleges and other needs. That bill’s final version still hadn’t been filed as of Sunday evening, although lawmakers must adopt it by Monday. Reeves described the amount in the main bond bill as slightly over $200 million, while Smith said it was $250 million.
Regarding House Bill 1630, Reeves said it would take about $15 million a year to service $200 million in debt over 20 years, leaving about $20 million a year in the department’s budget.
Senators approved the conference agreement Sunday, leaving House approval before the bill would go to Gov. Phil Bryant. However, Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, said that House members are still trying to make changes to the bill.