We got hit with headlines this week suggesting that roadwork across the state could grind to a halt very soon –– thanks to the Federal Highway Trust Fund running out of money:
“We’re going to have to stop writing checks in July or August this year if the federal government does not reauthorize the transportation law,” said state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata. He shared the stage with McCrory at the conference sponsored by the N.C. Chamber, a statewide business lobby group.
In past years, Congress set long-term priorities with legislation that governed transportation spending for five years at a time, enabling the states to plan their own spending several years into the future. Federal transportation funds are dwindling because of flat collections from a fuel tax rate unchanged since 1993. Congress has not signaled interest in increasing the gas tax or finding new transportation revenue sources.
Nick Tennyson, Tata’s chief deputy secretary, worried that Congress might agree on just a stopgap measure to continue transportation funding for another six months.
“When we get a new act, we need to know that it is both going to be sustainable and will increase funding,” Tennyson told the group. “We’re going to need the Congress to hear from more than just DOTs and road-builders. They need to hear from people who use highways and all the other modes of transportation.”
The N.C. Chamber and 30 other state chambers of commerce signed a letter dated Tuesday asking House and Senate leaders to authorize transportation spending for five more years, in new legislation that would protect the solvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund and give states flexibility in how they make transportation improvements.
The state DOT relies on combined state and federal gas taxes for 70 percent of its transportation money. Just as the gas tax has grown weaker as automobile fuel efficiency grows stronger, the state’s second-biggest transportation source – the highway use tax on car sales – also is being undermined by a changing economy.
“A Changing Economy”? Are they perhaps referring to the economic collapse brought on by intensive statist meddling that has knocked millions out of work and shrunk levels of disposable income in just as many households? Just asking.
Highway use tax collections plunged by one-third during the 2009 recession, but they have recovered partially as car sales increase again. Now, though, North Carolinians are buying cars that are less expensive and more fuel-efficient, and they wait longer than before – 11 years on average – to replace them with new cars.
McCrory and Tata said North Carolina will have to find new ways to pay for its transportation needs, but they weren’t ready to suggest new taxes or other revenue sources. First, they plan to offer new projections on how much money the state will need for long-term transportation improvements, as part of a 25-year plan to be released by DOT later this year.
That cost figure is expected to be billions of dollars more than the state now can hope to collect from current state and federal revenue streams.
Pressed by one audience member to reveal his thinking on new transportation taxes, McCrory demurred.
“We’re not going to leak anything to you at this point in time,” he said.
In politicalspeak, this is basically laying the groundwork for something like public-private partnerships and toll roads. You know, the stuff that Thom Tillis is currently cramming down the throats of his constituents.
Even with the paltry cap the legislature just passed, we still have the highest gas tax in the southeastern US, and one of the highest in the country. We hear a lot about this alleged tighter, more conservative state budget, while reports of exorbitant spending outside of the general fund are leaking out.
State leaders are making the claim that revenue from the gas tax is way down — thanks to the growing usage of more-fuel efficient vehicles. How does that wash with the dramatic growth in population North Carolina has been experiencing in recent years? Individuals may be buying less gas, but we are rapidly gaining MORE buyers. That has to count for something.
We’ve still got a heck of a lot of people out of work and struggling to make ends meet. State leaders need to tighten their own belts first — like most of us are — before trying to squeeze MORE out of us.