Road construction proposal advances
March 28th, 2011
Lincoln, NE – Nebraska lawmakers have advanced a plan to spend more on road construction, despite criticism that there won’t be enough money available.
The bill by Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine calls for setting aside half a cent of the existing state sales tax for road construction, beginning in 2013, and then for the next 20 years. Supporters say that’s needed to build new roads and spur economic development. Opponents say it will cut into funds needed for other purposes, like education and social services. After a day and a half of procedural wrangling and contentious argument, supporters succeeded in a cloture motion to cut off debate, and voted first round approval for the bill on a vote of 32-8.
Because the opponents filibuster prevented amendments from being considered, the bill does not reflect concessions that even Fischer had endorsed: eliminating up to $500 million worth of bonding, and limiting new funding to $125 million a year. During the next round of debate, Senator Dennis Utter of Hastings said he’ll propose a lower limit of $75 million. Fischer said that could hurt local governments who would be promised part of the money for streets, money that might otherwise have to come from local taxes.
“People who propose that need to be aware, again, the repercussions of a proposal when you’re talking $75 million instead of /4125. Does that mean we take away the $10 million to cities, the $10 million to counties. That’s $20 million,” she said. “You have to start making cuts in where that money’s been divided then. I don’t think our cities and counties are going to like it, and I don’t think our property tax payers would especially approve of us trying to take that away.”
Lincoln Sen, Danielle Conrad, a leader of the filibuster against the bill, said supporters still haven’t explained how they would pay for the additional spending on roads without cutting other programs or raising taxes. Conrad said she wasn’t discouraged by the lopsided vote.
Conrad said she’s hopeful, that the public will now be able to see what goes on in the Legislature. “They’re afraid to debate the issues, they’re afraid to answer the questions,” she said of her colleagues. “They’re committed to unsustainable spending. It’s time for the public to weigh in.”