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 wonâ€™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 thatâ€™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 heâ€™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.
â€œPeople who propose that need to be aware, again, the repercussions of a proposal when youâ€™re talking $75 million instead of /4125. Does that mean we take away the $10 million to cities, the $10 million to counties. Thatâ€™s $20 million,” she said. “You have to start making cuts in where that moneyâ€™s been divided then. I donâ€™t think our cities and counties are going to like it, and I donâ€™t think our property tax payers would especially approve of us trying to take that away.â€
Lincoln Sen, Danielle Conrad, a leader of the filibuster against the bill, said supporters still havenâ€™t explained how they would pay for the additional spending on roads without cutting other programs or raising taxes. Conrad said she wasnâ€™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. “Theyâ€™re afraid to debate the issues, theyâ€™re afraid to answer the questions,” she said of her colleagues. “Theyâ€™re committed to unsustainable spending. Itâ€™s time for the public to weigh in.â€