In the face of a massive budget shortfall, officials in North Carolina are trying to determine how to pay for road and bridge work in the state.
To make matters worse, about $170 million is scheduled to be routed from transportation this year to general services that include schools, health care and prisons.
“The public perception is that we collect taxes to be used for roads. And yet we use those taxes for something else,” Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, told the Charlotte Observer newspaper.
Berger is among the Republicans in the Democrat-controlled statehouse who have argued against increasing taxes for roads as long as funds are diverted for other uses.
Democrats also have declared their intent to end the payments, but they caution an abrupt shutoff would leave the state budget off kilter.
A North Carolina Department of Transportation report said the state needs $122 billion during the next 25 years to keep up with demands. During that time, it was estimated $57 billion is available – leaving a $65 billion gap.
The state relies on taxes applied to motor fuels and car sales as well as collecting fees to pay for transportation work. Federal aid also helps foot the bill for projects but rising costs for construction materials, including asphalt, have made it more difficult to pay for needed road and bridge work.
Among the possible solutions offered to help eat into the funding gap is adding tolls on some new roads. Another suggestion is to boost the 3 percent tax on the sale price of vehicles, the Observer reported.
Gov. Mike Easley said he will appoint a study group to look into how the state pays for transportation projects. The group could report back to the governor in time for the 2008 regular session.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor