Nebraska roads in need of funding boost, report confirms

| 12/28/2009

The outlook for Nebraska roads is bleak unless officials come up with new funding options, according to a report.

The Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee released a report that shows the state’s dependence on fuel tax collections to pay for transportation work has created a “fiscal crisis.” Less fuel consumption, more fuel-efficient vehicles and changing driving habits have been cited for the downturn.

Fresh off a series of public hearings on highway funding, the panel outlined 31 tax and fee hikes that residents submitted around the state. Among the suggestions included in the 62-page report is a higher fuel tax. The state’s tax rate is scheduled to increase 0.4 cents to 26.8 cents per gallon Friday, Jan. 1, 2010.

Other options brought up by Nebraskans include indexing the fuel tax to inflation, which would allow for regular increases. Toll roads and public-private partnerships also were mentioned, as well as using bonds to pay for highway work.

Another option would change the way highway users are taxed – to a system of charging truckers and others by the mile.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is concerned that while a vehicle-miles-traveled tax option, or VMT, is drawing a lot of attention at the state and federal levels of 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 with the funding option, especially considering that the federal bill does not call for a removal of a fuel tax if established. 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.

Permitting more gambling in the state with the revenues being used for roads and privatizing 26 rest stops on Interstate 80 were other options brought up by residents.

Increasing the state’s $15 registration fee also was mentioned as an option. The fee hasn’t been raised in 40 years. In addition, boosting the fees for overweight/oversize permits and driver’s licenses were mentioned.

Nebraska legislators aren’t expected to take up a highway-funding bill until the 2011 session – months after the fall elections. The focus of the regular session that starts next week is expected to focus on budget issues.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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