Motorists mixed over gas tax hike for better bridges

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

MOSS POINT, MS (WLOX) - If you're like many of South Mississippi drivers, filling your tank might drain your budget.

"A good portion of the excess money in my monthly budget goes to fuel," said Jason Brownlow as he gassed up his car at a Moss Point filling station.

Even though prices are much lower than this time last year, some people are still feeling the pinch.

"Too high," said Bill Conley, who fueled up across the street. "I like it better when it's like a dollar a gallon."

"I think the price of gas is sufficiently high where it's at," Brownlow said.

Despite concerns from motorists, the Mississippi Department of Transportation supports another hike in fuel costs. Executive Director Butch Brown wants the state to increase its gas tax for the first time since 1987. Since then, it has been set at 18.5 cents per gallon.

"At that time, remember back, gas was selling for a dollar a gallon. That was 18.5 % as a percent of the cost of fuel." Brown said in a press conference Wednesday. "Now ratchet forward, when you get to $4 a gallon, do the math."

The increased tax would go to fix what Brown said is an alarming problem that's not getting enough attention. It's Mississippi bridges. Brown said he estimates 25% of the state's bridges are deficient. He wants a gas tax hike to fund bridge improvements. He said although the tax increase is desperately needed, a bill of that nature could face a big hurdle in the legislature.

"When was the last time that you stood in front of a filling station or the state Capitol and protested because fuel went up a nickel yesterday?" Brown asked Wednesday. "People don't care any more. They accept the price of fuel changing every day, but you say something about fuel tax and, you know, people go crazy. It's got to change."

Everyone who was interviewed told WLOX the number shocked them, but they still aren't sure if a tax hike is the answer.

"I don't want no more gas taxes," Conley said.  "I'm already paying too much in cigarette taxes."

"It, personally, is unsettling to me to know that my tax dollars are looking at being raised in order to maintain bridges that we've already paid for," Brownlow said. "I think [gas prices] should be left alone."

Automotive Technology instructor, Rick McDonald, thinks it's a fair deal.

"If we don't do maintenance on the roads, we're in trouble," McDonald said. "The motorists that are buying the gas are using the roads, and they ought to be part of the ones that contribute to it."

Whatever the tax, the drivers interviewed said its something they'll have to pay.

"Everybody's going to complain about any tax that comes along," McDonald said. "We're going to buy it anyway. The way I look at it, people in New York are paying $6 a gallon for gas. It will, in my opinion, encourage people to buy more fuel efficient cars."

"I don't have a choice," said Caleb Churchwell. "I gotta go to work."

The current state gas tax is the 8th lowest in the country. The national average is 45.6 percent.

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