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Sales tax for roads may get super priority status

Thursday, March 31, 2011

McCOOK, Nebraska -- LR3CA, the constitutional amendment that would authorize the state to use sales and use tax revenue to pay off highway bonds, may get speaker super priority status, according to State Sen. Mark Christensen.

Christensen told members of the McCook Chamber of Commerce, Thursday morning during his weekly conference call at the Keystone Business Center, that the status can only be given twice a year and would provide the speaker of the Legislature control over the order in which amendments to the bill are debated.

Christensen said he had no doubt that the bill would be sufficiently debated and cleaned up, but was still concerned with claims from Sen. Deb Fischer that the two-year delay included in the amendment was due to environmental studies that would need to be completed for road projects.

"The roads department says it has enough projects where dollars could be used within a year," he said, adding that he was concerned aboutconflicting information between the roads department, Senator Fischer and contractors.

Christensen said he believed Gov. Heineman's veto threat was driven by concerns that many of the senators who supported the amendment, including Fischer, will no longer be in office when the measure goes into effect in two years.

Christensen also said he believes there is enough support to override opposition from Heineman.

"I think it's an important bill for us to get a little money back into our roads system," said Red Willow County Commissioner Earl McNutt, who cited concerns over dollars consistently being taken from counties and villages.

Dale Dueland said he supported the amendment, but was concerned we were "heading down the wrong path by redirecting sales tax funds. We need to put expenses on the users of the roads."

That prompted Linda Taylor to bring up an inability to raise support for fuel tax increases, saying that it would now take a 28-cent increase on gas tax to raise adequate funding.

Christensen responded that an increase of that level would create a lot of backlash, adding that the last nine toll road proposals for Interstate 80 had been rejected by the federal government.

"If we're shifting sales tax revenue, why not eliminate the gas tax and enforce sales tax on fuel? That would benefit cities that have local sales tax as well," said Jim Coady.

That suggestion brought support from several chamber members and Christensen said he would have some numbers run. "It would not get the full 28-cent increase but it would be an increase," he said.

Larry Eisenmenger noted a news report he had seen that claimed 67 bridges were out of compliance in Nebraska.

"It said we were the sixth lowest in the nation for quality of bridges."

Christensen said he had heard that and found it interesting that "the school people tell me our roads are ranked eighth in the nation and yet we are 46th in the nation in teacher's wages."

He understood each side had its own agenda to support, he said.

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I thought the tax on gasoline we have now is to be used to for the roads. Where is that tax going if not for roads? I suppose it is being raided for other uses as is SocSec.

-- Posted by devildoc on Thu, Mar 31, 2011, at 3:04 PM

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