Effort to tap 'rainy day fund' for Arizona roads dies

| 2/16/2007

The Arizona Senate has refused to pull money from the state’s “rainy day fund” and use it for transportation. The bill’s demise will likely improve the chances for an alternative plan offered by Gov. Janet Napolitano to refinance the state’s road construction debt.

The Senate voted 16-13 to kill a bill – SB1049 – that called for redirecting $450 million from the rainy day fund and using it to speed up road projects throughout the state. Part of what led to the bill’s demise was that it didn’t include a provision to replace the money.

Before the deciding vote, Sen. Robert Burns, R-Peoria, 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 questioned raiding the $650 million rainy day fund. They said it is intended for economic emergencies, not traffic tie ups.

Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano shared 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 has said she would rather refinance transportation bonds. She is proposing a change to state law that limits highway bonds to 20 years. Repealing the limit would allow the Arizona Department of Transportation to float 30-year bonds, which would allow the state to borrow an additional $500 million, the Arizona Daily Star reported.