Alabama bills call on taxes, bonds to fund road work

| 3/7/2008

Concerns about road funding are rampant in state capitols throughout the country. The Alabama statehouse is no exception. Among other things, legislators there are looking into fuel tax increases and bonds to help pay for transportation projects.

The first bill is intended to help replace bad bridges throughout the state. Sponsored by Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana, the measure would allot a $275 million bond issue for structurally deficient county bridges. The funding would go for fixing 1,576 bridges with low sufficiency ratings.

The bill – HB466 – is in the House Government Appropriations Committee. The Senate version – SB357 – is in the Senate Economic Expansion and Trade Committee.

If approved, it would be the second bond issue for bridges in the past decade. In 2000, counties throughout the state opted to replace some of the aging and insufficiently rated bridges in rural areas. However, there wasn’t enough bond money to replace them all.

The state would need $415 million this year to replace or upgrade all bridges deemed hazardous by county engineers, the Tuscaloosa News reported.

The bond issue is part of a four-bill package. Other parts of the package include an indexed fuel tax, local fuel tax options, and moving the point of collection of motor fuel taxes back from distributors to refineries.

Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville, introduced a bill that would increase the state’s fuel tax rates by linking them to the cost of road paving. Estimates show the 19-cent-per gallon tax on diesel and 16-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline would increase a penny annually for five years.

Supporters say indexing the fuel tax is the only way to counter the impact of inflation and fuel costs on road builders.

While acknowledging that revenue collected from the state’s fuel tax cannot keep up with road and bridge needs, Gov. Bob Riley is opposed to increasing taxes. The governor and others would rather pursue alternative methods to pay for transportation projects.

Opposition to higher fuel tax rates didn’t dissuade Gipson from authoring another bill that would allow county commissions to raise the fuel tax by as much as 6 cents per gallon. The revenue would be earmarked for roads and bridges in the county.

Both bills – HB471 and HB470, respectively – are in the House Government Appropriations Committee.

Another bill in the appropriations panel would revise fuel tax collection processes. Sponsored by Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, the measure – HB518 – would shift the collection of statewide motor fuel taxes from the wholesale point to refineries.

Advocates say it would greatly improve collection efforts by reducing the number of businesses from which to collect.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Alabama, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor