Arizona bill would tap 'rainy day fund' for roads

| 1/18/2007

An Arizona Senate panel has approved a bill that would pull money from the state's "rainy day fund" and use it for road projects.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 7-3 to approve a bill that was spurred by its chairman, Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria. The bill would take $450 million from the fund and use it speed up road projects throughout the state.

The bill doesn't include a provision to replace the money.

Burns said the lagging pace of road work is reason enough to tap into the fund, which was set up to help the state in tough economic times.

"Today it is raining people and cars in Arizona and this is a wise use of taxpayers' dollars," Burns said in a written statement.

He also said coupling this year's plan with the more than $400 million allotted a year ago for accelerated road projects would help the state catch up.

Opponents question raiding the $650 million fund. They say it is intended for economic emergencies, not traffic tie ups.

Gov. Janet Napolitano shares those concerns.

Other options being discussed by lawmakers to aid transportation projects include higher taxes, tapping into the state's general fund, borrowing more money or allowing private groups to build and expand existing roads in return for charging tolls.

Napolitano would rather refinance transportation bonds. She is considering a change to state law that limits highway bonds to 20 years, the Arizona Daily Star reported. Repealing the limit would allow the Arizona Department of Transportation to float 30-year bonds, which would allow the state to borrow more money.

Burns' bill - SB1049 - is headed to the chamber floor for consideration.