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The value of Nebraska’s transportation infrastructure is immeasurable. We take for granted the extensive network of roads, highways, and bridges that enable our population and billions of dollars in commercial and agricultural activity to move across our state on a daily basis. It takes more than 2.2 million semitrailer loads to transport Nebraska’s grain crops from field to market every year alone. However, our roads and bridges are aging and a great percentage of our infrastructure is in dire need of repair.
The facts about our infrastructure’s disrepair are grim: 19% of Nebraska’s bridges are deemed structurally deficient ranking – 6th worst in the country. The Department of Roads estimates a need of $10.2 billion over the next 20 years to repair or improve our increasingly decimated network of highways.
Nebraska is not alone in this problem. In recent years, federal funding for road construction and maintenance has stalled. With little assistance on the horizon from Congress, states across the country are now responsible for implementing independent solutions. On the local level, elimination of state general fund aid to cities and counties has placed significant pressure on their budgets, requiring many to use the full extent of their property tax authority to maintain and repair vital infrastructure.
The state can not continue to “kick the can down the road” on such a vital piece of the state’s economic growth. Each year the Legislature fails to address this problem, the greater the expense becomes for the taxpayers and our local and county governments. Staying on the current path is not acceptable. The revenue from a gas tax increase would offset the stress currently placed on Nebraska’s counties and municipalities and their dependence on property tax revenue.
This past week LB 610 passed the first round of floor debate. Introduced by Senator Jim Smith, LB 610 would increase the state’s gas tax by 1.5 cents per year over the next four years. By 2019, it is estimated the state would generate $80 million in annual revenue to go directly to road and bridge improvement. South Dakota and Iowa, along with 10 other states, have recently addressed their infrastructure funding gaps with an increased gas tax.
LB 610 is a desirable solution because it is a direct user fee. Those who use the roads will pay for them. A gas tax is a cost-effective strategy to collect fees from every individual who travels through our state and puts wear on our roads. The burden on a motorist’s wallet will be minimal. An individual who drives 15,000 miles a year in a vehicle that gets a modest 20 mpg will pay less than $1 per month in the first year. After four years, when the increase is fully implemented, that same driver will pay less than $50 per year.
Realigning our tax revenue to balance property, income, sales, and user taxes is a complex process. Establishing a non-general fund revenue stream to address costly local infrastructure is an important first step. Returning a state source of funding to cities and counties allows them to address property taxes in a long-term, structural manner that benefits all taxpayers and helps grow Nebraska’s economy.
I have no doubt I will face criticism for my support of LB 610. I don’t want to pay any more at the pump than anyone in District 38. However, I am committed to taking this first crucial step in what will be a multi-year, innovative attempt to address our rural infrastructure without placing a greater burden on property owners and income taxes. Rather than ignore the problem, I along with my colleagues have chosen to proactively address the need and work toward solutions.
As always, I appreciate your input on LB 610 and any issue before the Legislature. To contact my office, please call 402-471-2732 or email at email@example.com. For daily updates, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.
Senator John Kuehn, District 38