Nebraska looking for answers to road funding dilemma

| 11/12/2009

Nebraska Department of Roads officials recently gave their annual briefing on the status of highway funding to a joint hearing of the Transportation and Telecommunications and Appropriations committees.

Monty Fredrickson, roads department director, told lawmakers that Nebraska is facing the same dilemma that continues to confront so many other states: Funding for road repairs and construction cannot keep pace with needs.

The state now brings in about $310 million annually for roads and bridges. Committee members were told the funding from the fuel tax, vehicle sales tax and federal government is barely enough to keep up with demands. If the trend continues, no money will be available for improvements and new construction.

The news wasn’t a surprise to lawmakers. The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee recently held statewide hearings to gather ideas to help perk up the state’s prospects for getting roadwork done.

Among the options discussed are increasing the fuel tax and vehicle registration fees. Using bonds is another option, along with tolls.

One option that is drawing increased attention around the country is changing the way highway users are taxed – to a system of charging truckers and others by the mile. The Highway Commission has brought up this revenue option for further consideration.

While serious consideration of a vehicle-miles-traveled tax option, or VMT, is probably several years away, officials in Nebraska and elsewhere are likely to give it a long look. There also is an effort at the federal level to establish a pilot program to study VMT as a replacement for the fuel excise tax.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is concerned that while the VMT is drawing a lot of attention in government as a possible solution to the transportation funding crisis, it remains unproven. OOIDA leaders believe more study is needed.

The Association cites many unanswered questions with the funding option, especially considering that the federal bill does not call for a removal of a fuel tax if established. The current system of levying federal taxes on truckers is already discriminatory and harmful.

OOIDA also has concerns about how the information gathered will be used, who will have access to it, and if it will be shared and with whom.

The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee is expected to have a report complete in the next few weeks to address road funding options. Any funding plans can be considered during the regular session, which convenes Jan. 6.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Nebraska in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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