Big Fights Over Using Sales Tax for Roads

By: - May 17, 2011 12:00 am

FUNDING FIGHTS: In two states, it’s the governor vs. the legislator over the rules that control road funding. Utah lawmakers overrode the veto of Governor Gary Herbert on a proposal to designate 30 percent of new sales tax revenue, or roughly $60 million next year, for road building, reports the Salt Lake Tribune . Herbert argued the move would handcuff the state and hurt schools. In Nebraska , Governor Dave Heineman has until today to decide whether to veto a similar law there, writes the Omaha World-Herald . Heineman has called the move a “risky financial strategy” but the bill’s sponsor says she thinks she has enough support to override a veto.

RAIL MONEY: Last week, the Obama administration doled out $2 billion in passenger rail grants to 15 states, with a heavy emphasis on improving service in the Northeast. With Congress looking to tighten its belt, this may be the last time for a while that states will get big federal checks for passenger rail construction writes Ken Orski of Innovation News Briefs . The money distributed last week was redirected from Florida , where Governor Rick Scott rejected plans for a new route between Orlando and Tampa. Criticism of the effort is growing. Of course, Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio rejected the money. Now in California , the state with the most ambitious high-speed rail plan, an auditor’s report raises big questions, according to California Watch . The Legislative Analyst’s Office criticized the plan for relying on unrealistic funding assumptions and for starting construction far from the line’s most populous stops. Beginning work between Fresno and Bakersfield was intended to start construction in time to fall under federal stimulus guidelines, but the report calls that choice a “risky decision” and a “big gamble.”

PRIVATE HELP: Transportation officials in Minnesota are getting creative in how they could use private money to shore up their budgets, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune . Among the options proposed by the Department of Transportation are selling vanity license plates for particular road improvements, issuing “mini-bonds” for investors and asking companies to pony up to fix intersections that would improve their business.

HIGHER TOLLS: Scarce transportation money means higher tolls around the country, writes USA Today . Among the drivers hit are those in California , Delaware , Indiana , Pennsylvania , New York and Virginia . And Rhode Island motorists may have to pay tolls where they have not had to before, writes the Providence Journal . U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood has voiced concern over Rhode Island’s plan because federal law prohibits states from tolling existing interstates. State transportation officials say they only want to study adding tolls to I-95, because federal law may change. 

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