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Let the debate begin! 21st Century Transport Committee releases their findings

As you all well and know, earlier this week, Governor Mike Easley announced his own plan for improving road financing within the state of North Carolina. And as we predicted (and Bob made note of in the comments), the Governor's 21st Century Transportation Committee came up with their own suggestions.

Story: Raleigh News & Observer

There was a plethora of items within the Committee's conclusions, but since the governor specifically targeted the annual transfer of $172.6 million from the Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund, lets look at the differences there first.

Gov. Easley suggested that the transfer be reduced by $25 million this year and eventually be eliminated completely. (He didn't give a timetable for how long that would take.) The $25 million would then be applied for the necessary gap funding for the proposed Triangle Expressway Toll Road. (Which needs about $22-25 million per year for 40 years to cover the cost of building the highway.)

I pointed out how that would most certainly differ from the committee's findings (which hinted at the total elimination of the transfer), and that other parts of the state would question why a Raleigh project would be favorited over theirs.

Well, the Committee's proposal for the Highway Fund transfer is as follows:
  1. It would completely eliminate the transfer
  2. $75 million of the gained funs would be used for 'gap financing' for the Triangle Expressway and three other toll projects within the state
  3. The balance of the money would be used to retire nearly $800 million in debt from a bond issue ($1 billion) the committee also suggested.
Now, obviously the differences between the two are pretty stark. All at once, vs. a vague piecemeal proposal. Four total toll projects would receive 'gap funding' vs.only the Triangle Expressway.

Of course, any of these suggestions would have to be passed by the Legislature before moving forward. And I am sure various members of the NC House and Senate have their own ideas on this as well.

But the Committee's report was not limited to eliminating the Highway Trust Fund transfer. It included the previously mentioned bond referendum. The referendum proposed at $1 billion could be on the ballot as early as this fall. (again if it gets the ok from the legislature...there's always the fine print remember) The committee made one point of caution. The bond issue should not be a small amount to where it has very little impact in improving or moving the state's highway infrastructure forward.

The report also recommended that legislation be made that would allow counties to issue half-cent sales tax increases and small vehicle registration fees to pay for various transit measures (similar to what passed in Mecklenburg County). The tax and fee increases would have to be approved by county commissioners to be on the ballot and ultimately by county voters in an election.

It also suggested a new trust fund for congestion relief and transit projects. The $160 million per year fund would go towards bus and light/commuter rail projects.

The committee's report was not unanimous as a few members objected to the lack committed money to transit projects.

Final Commentary:

So there you have it...another proposal to fix and fund our transportation issues. The NC Legislature now has the ball in their court, and who knows what the final solution will look like after it goes through their 'R&D' process (I tried to make the term 'bureaucratic process' sound a little different.) Will the various 'gap funding' proposals not make the grade like it did last year? Or will something come out of it? We'll blog about it...and so will others. So stay tuned.

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