Effort in Tennessee seeks to secure road dollars

| 4/26/2006

Republican lawmakers and the governor in Tennessee are doing battle over road funding for the state.

A legislative proposal in the Tennessee General Assembly would restore $65 million diverted from the road fund to help balance the state’s budget. Gov. Phil Bredesen says doing that would return the state to a “fiscal crisis.”

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 7-1 this month to advance the recommendation that also would prohibit $43.8 million from being taken from roads this fiscal year and giving it to the state’s general fund, Liz Alvey, research analyst for the transportation panel, told Land Line. The recommendation has been forwarded to the Senate Finance Committee.

Bredesen, a Democrat, was in attack mode after the effort’s passage.

“This election-year scramble by a select few to cater to political interests actually does threaten the principles of sound budgeting,” Bredesen told The City Paper in Nashville, TN.

The governor rerouted $65 million from the road-building and maintenance fund to the general fund in 2003 to help cover a budget shortfall. He continued the practice in each of the next two budgets, transferring $217 million.

The Senate panel voted to return the full amount from 2003 while Bredesen wants only $22 million sent back during the next fiscal year. The governor’s plan would add another $22 million during each of the following two years.

Bredesen last year returned about $10 million to highways on a one-time basis. This year, the governor is calling for $11 million in recurring funds and $11 million in one-time money to be returned.

The governor’s office said if the committee’s plan is approved, the state would be forced to cut nearly $55 million from other programs, The AP reported.

Senate Transportation Chairman Mark Norris said something must be done to help transportation.

“Those monies are going to have to be found, but it was the committee’s thought that we should meet that need by recommending that full funding be restored,” Norris, R-Collierville, told The Associated Press.

Norris wrote in a letter to Bredesen Monday, April 24, stating that there is one other option the governor could pursue if he doesn’t want to send money back to transportation.

“If you remain resolute in saying the (fuel) tax is not needed for transportation, perhaps you should reduce it at the pump now and honestly make a case for new revenues to fund other state programs.”

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor