Heavy hitters back road funding


February 14th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – A proposal to set aside another $125 million a year for road construction drew lots of support in a legislative hearing last week. NET News’ Fred Knapp reports there’s a lineup of heavy hitters backing the proposal.

Sen. Fischer says the gas tax is insufficient to maintain Nebraska roads, nevermind build new ones (Photo courtesy City of Omaha)

The proposal is by Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine, chairwoman of the Transportation Committee. She said with people driving less, and vehicles getting more efficient, gas tax revenues are falling short of what’s needed even to maintain roads, much less build new ones.

Fischer’s proposal would set aside half a cent of the existing state sales tax, starting two years from now, for road construction. If voters approve a separate constitutional amendment next year, $25 million of that could be used to pay interest on bonds for another $500 million worth of construction. You might think that would set off alarm bells of fiscal conservatism. But judging by most of Thursday’s speakers, you would be wrong.
“Sen. Fischer has come up with a workable, realistic proposal for providing funding in LB84,” said Dick Reiser, representing the Omaha and State chambers of Commerce and the Nebraska Trucking Association.

Bob Hallstrom, from the Nebraska Bankers Association, agreed. “We think it will lead to growth in jobs and in the economy across the state.”

And so did Curt Smith of the Associated General Contractors, “Nebraska’s economic future is connected to our surface transportation system. We cannot afford to delay dealing with this critical issue.”
And so it went for more than an hour, with groups including the Lincoln Chamber, the Cattlemen, engineers, mayors, and county representatives lending support.

Only one person, Richard Halvorsen of Lincoln, testified against the bill. Halvorsen said he agrees that roads are a core function of government, along with education, social services, and public safety. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for public policy to carve out a certain percentage of the budget to lock in to give to one of those functions, especially locking in by bonds.”

Halvorsen said he felt like the lone ranger. And Senator Dennis Utter of Hastings commented on the lopsided testimony. “I must admit, General Fischer, that you’ve assembled quite an army here today.”

Fischer’s bill might produce more of a battle with senators concerned about protecting other spending programs if it makes it to the full Legislature.

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