Alabama bills that died called on taxes, bonds to fund road work

| 6/9/2008

The Alabama Legislature recently wrapped up their regular session without approving any major initiatives to fund road work throughout the state. Among other things, legislators there looked at fuel tax increases and bonds to help pay for transportation projects.

The first bill was intended to help replace bad bridges. A bond issue of $275 million was sought for structurally deficient county bridges. Funding included in the bill would have gone for fixing 1,576 bridges with low sufficiency ratings.

The measure – HB466 – remained in committee when the session ended May 20.

If approved, it would have been the second bond issue for bridges in the past decade. In 2000, counties throughout the state opted to replace some of the aging and insufficiently rated bridges in rural areas. However, there wasn’t enough bond money to replace them all.

The state would need $415 million this year to replace or upgrade all bridges deemed hazardous by county engineers, the Tuscaloosa News reported.

The bond issue was part of a four-bill package. Other parts of the package included an indexed fuel tax, local fuel tax options, and moving the point of collection of motor fuel taxes back from distributors to refineries.

Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville, offered one bill that called for increasing the state’s fuel tax rates by linking them to the cost of road paving. Estimates show the 19-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel and 16-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline would increase a penny annually for five years.

Supporters said indexing the fuel tax is the only way to counter the impact on inflation and fuel on road builders.

While acknowledging that revenue collected from the state’s fuel tax cannot keep up with road and bridge needs, Gov. Bob Riley is opposed to increasing taxes. The governor and others would rather pursue alternative methods to pay for transportation projects.

Opposition to higher fuel tax rates didn’t dissuade Gipson from authoring another bill that would have allowed county commissions to raise the fuel tax by as much as 6 cents per gallon. The revenue would have been earmarked for roads and bridges in the county.

Both bills – HB471 and HB470, respectively – died in committee.

Another bill that met its demise in committee would have revised fuel tax collection processes. The measure – HB518 – would have shifted the collection of statewide motor fuel taxes from the wholesale point to refineries.

Advocates said it would greatly improve collection efforts by reducing the number of businesses from which to collect.

Each legislative effort will need to wait until the 2009 regular session for further consideration.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Alabama in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor