Lease deals among options states forced to consider

| 12/7/2010

Without clear direction from the federal government on a long-term authorization bill, governors and state lawmakers have few, if any, assurances for where revenue will come from to foot the bill for road work. As a result, various funding options that states are left to consider could have severe ramifications for highway users.

Mike Joyce, OOIDA’s director of legislative affairs, said there is concern everywhere about the outlook for getting transportation work done.

“There’s a lot of frustration about the lack of a long-term authorization bill. States don’t have a clear path forward,” Joyce said.

In Ohio, Gov.-elect John Kasich said leasing the Ohio Turnpike is one option that must be considered. He acknowledged that the current economic climate means the timing of a lease deal might not be right, but it is an idea that has not been taken off the table.

The Ohio Turnpike Commission operates the 241-mile roadway.

Concern about how to pay for needed road work has spurred one South Carolina state lawmaker to pursue partnering with private groups. Specifically, Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, wants to get started on the proposed Interstate 73 project. The long-sought roadway would connect travelers from the state’s coast to their northern border.

Tolling authority for new projects and added lanes would also be authorized on existing roadways. However, the state would be prohibited from leasing roads that were funded by a local option sales and use tax.

In Arkansas, a governor-appointed task force is recommending a series of funding proposals to pay for road improvements. The options that will be proposed to lawmakers during the upcoming regular session include indexing the excise tax on gas and diesel.

Other potential funding sources include imposing a new excise tax on the wholesale price of motor fuels and a 10-year highway bond program, which would be repaid with proceeds from a one-half cent sales tax increase.

Another governor-appointed panel in Idaho is calling for new funding sources. Potential sources include a fuel tax increase and a plan to tie the tax to the rate of inflation.

Bill Rode of Eagle, ID, a longtime owner-operator and OOIDA life member, said that states often are their own worst enemies when it comes to road funding.

“They’re going to have to stop spending on pet projects and put the road money where it belongs,” he said.

Of particular note to Idaho truckers, revenue-raising options include higher truck registration fees and bringing back the weight-distance tax, which was removed in 2000.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said that Washington needs to act. For the past decade, there has been absolutely no leadership in terms of addressing viable transportation policy.

“We are paying the price for it right now. Washington needs to act in concert with state officials so that we get transportation policy that keeps us a mobile society and addresses the legitimate needs of commerce and highway safety,” Spencer said.

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