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Are MS drivers willing to pay more for gas to keep bridges open?

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STONE COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

Would you be willing to pay more at the pump if it saved you from having to drive miles out of your way to get around? That's the question some Mississippi legislators are asking the public.

Lawmakers said there are thousands of bridges in Mississippi that are in bad shape, but the state isn't sure how to come up with the money to fix them. One idea that is floating around Jackson is a gasoline tax.

State Rep. Doug McLeod says after years of detours, George County residents are glad to see work finally underway to replace the Ernest Pipkins Road bridge. However, he said there are thousands of other bridges across the state on the verge of being shut down because they are in need of repairs.

"We have over 3,000 bridges, right now, that are fixing to get into critical needs. There's three shut down in George County," said McLeod. "You don't think anything about that until you start driving five miles out of your way. You start going five miles out of your way two times a day, five cents. You're not going to bat an eye at five cents."

McLeod serves Forrest, George, Jackson and Stone Counties.

"Especially in our rural counties, it could cause county school buses having to go out of their way. I know in George County if one bridge goes out, our school buses have to go 20 something miles out of their way," McLeod said. "That's a burden on the tax payers and expenses and everything."

Some lawmakers believe an added gas tax would do more harm than good.

Sen. Tony Smith, of District 47, said the question is, "do the people of our state want to pay extra fuel tax to help offset or to generate the money that would be needed for the repairs."

"I'm not so sure it would be good in today's economy to put an increased fuel tax on the people, especially in South Mississippi. We're a pretty rural area, and a lot of our people commute to work." said Smith. "So, if we add another 10 cents or whatever that number might be, that's coming directly out of their paycheck."

With the 2014 budget allotting 56 cents of every dollar to education and another 16 cents to social services, there's not much left and that must be split among all the other agencies.

"We're required to have a balanced budget, unlike the federal government. We have to balance the books," Smith said. "We've made a commitment that we're not going to use bonds or borrow money to do projects such as repairs and things like that. It is a tough quandary to be in, but I believe the leadership of the state will come up with a plan."

"The critical thing is going to be when one of these bridges go out and they have to drive five miles every day out of their way, or even three miles. Then you say an extra three cents on a gallon of gas would help to correct all these problems. In the long run I think they'll look at the overall picture. It will mainly depend on what plan we come up with and agree on," McLeod said.

The lawmakers spoke at a legislative forum put on by the Stone County Economic Development Partnership.

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