To the dismay of numerous business groups, the Mississippi legislature opted, once again, not to raise gas taxes in the state this year.

Mississippi continues to have the third lowest gas tax in the country, at 18.4 cents per gallon (cpg), which is identical to the federal gas tax motorists also pay. Only Alaska (14.66 cpg) and Missouri (17.42 cpg) have lower gas taxes.  

On July 1, motorists in 14 states saw their gas taxes raised, either through new taxes approved by the legislature or due to automated increases. Tennessee is in the final stage of a phased in 6 cent per gallon increase, which included a 1 cent per gallon increase this year. 

Illinois drivers saw the biggest jump – as their taxes went up 19 cents per gallon. Those who purchase gas in California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, and parts of Virginia also experienced increases in gas taxes. 

Gas taxes among neighboring states

StateGas taxNational ranking
Alabama21.21 cpg41
Arkansas21.8 cpg40
Louisiana20.01 cpg43
Mississippi18.4 cpg48
Tennessee27.4 cpg30

As a result of the low taxes and other factors that help Mississippians pay the least per gallon in the country, many – not just the business community, but both Democrats and Republicans running for governor – have called to raise the state’s gas tax, with the belief that it will be less painful and that the state desperately needs it. Some advocate for adjusting the tax to inflation annually, thereby preventing legislators from ever having to vote for a tax hike again while ensuring regular increases.

Simply because your taxes happen to be lower than other states does not mean you should raise them to match those states. That is bad policy. Besides, all this would do is simply redirect money from the private sector to government. A government that already controls 55 percent of the state’s economy. 

Taxpayers currently spend over $1 billion annually on the work of the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Some might want more, but the biggest problems with Mississippi roads are not state-maintained roads. Of the 479 bridges that are currently closed, only 11 are state controlled – and they are all being replaced. The rest are maintained by cities and counties.  

And far too many of those localities are simply not keeping up with their roads and bridges and that is evidenced by what they spend. For example, Hinds County has spent an average of only 6.48 percent of its annual expenditures in the last three years on roads and bridges. It has 44 bridges closed, according to the Office of State Aid Roads. Neighboring Rankin and Madison counties spent 31 and 22 percent on roads and bridges, respectively. 

Increasing the gas tax would not help local governments as those taxes go to the state and the Department of Transportation. 

As we often see in government, the first reaction is a tax increase. Before we start looking for more sources to fund infrastructure, we should do everything in our power to ensure taxpayer monies are carefully expended and that suppliers and contractors are producing the most value possible for the dollars they receive. And all of it should be open and transparent. 

Our government officials should be negotiating hard with incumbent contract holders on price and inviting competition at every step to ensure maximum bang for the buck. 

And if we don’t have enough competition amongst existing contractors or those suppliers don’t have enough capacity to handle the work without charging more, we should open up the competition by inviting others to enter the bidding. 

These dollars belong to the taxpayers and they should be respected as such.