Talk between state officials about transportation funding is always a topic of concern. But it is safe to say the concern for funding roads, bridges and transit continues to worsen at all levels of government.
Officials in Nebraska met recently to discuss their own road funding issues. Highway commissioners were informed during a gathering in Lincoln, NE, that money for maintenance and construction of roads is nearing flatline status. To make matters worse, the revenue generated from the state’s fuel tax is dropping due to less fuel being consumed. More fuel-efficient vehicles and changing driving habits were cited for the downturn.
With that less-than-rosy picture painted for long-term funding under the current setup, the Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee held statewide hearings recently to gather ideas to help perk up the state’s prospects for getting roadwork done.
Among the options discussed are increasing the fuel tax and vehicle registration fees. Using bonds is another option, along with tolls.
One option that is drawing increased attention around the country is changing the way highway users are taxed – to a system of charging truckers and others by the mile. The Nebraska Highway Commission brought up this revenue option for further consideration.
While serious consideration of a vehicle-miles-traveled tax option, or VMT, is likely several years away, officials in Nebraska and elsewhere are likely to give it a long look.
Other states where a VMT is drawing attention include Florida, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont. More states are likely to be added to the list after the first of the year. There also is an effort at the federal level to establish a pilot program to study VMT as a replacement for the fuel excise tax.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is concerned that while the VMT is drawing a lot of attention in government as a possible solution to the transportation funding crisis, it remains unproven. OOIDA executives believe more study is needed.
The Association cites many unanswered questions for the funding option, especially considering that the federal bill does not call for a removal of a fuel tax if established. The current system of levying federal taxes on truckers is already discriminatory and harmful.
OOIDA also has concerns about how the information gathered will be used, who will have access to it, and if it will be shared and with whom.
To view other legislative activities of interest for Nebraska in 2009, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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