April 21, 2011
Road Funding a Big Issue in Contest for Governor of West Virginia
By Daniel C. Vock, Staff Writer
RUNNING ON ROADS: With a special election primary less than a month away, Democratic candidates for governor of West Virginia are sparring over how to pay for road improvements. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant calls the state's roads a "disgrace," and the other leading candidates also decry the poor shape of highways, reports the Charleston Daily Mail . Most agree that the state should tax natural gas from Marcellus Shale deposits to fix up the roads, and Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, who is seeking a full term, has come under fire for vetoing a measure to boost road funding with higher motorist fees. "Yes, I did veto the $47 million rate increase," the governor says. "There's a lot of families still hurting from the recession out there." The primary is May 14.
ROAD TAX OVERRIDE: Even with states straining to keep their highways in good shape, gas tax increases have remained politically unpopular, writes Sean Slone of the Council of State Governments . But in South Dakota , he notes, lawmakers overrode a gubernatorial veto to increase license plate fees for the purpose of maintaining local roads. State Senator Mike Vehle told Slone that support for the increase was overwhelming. "When I asked for opponents (at a hearing), only the governor's representative stepped forward," Vehle recalled. The governor's lobbyist "looked back at the crowded room of supporters, and before testifying said, 'I think I now know how Custer felt!'"
SPEED LIMITS: Kansas Governor Sam Brownback approved a new law boosting the top speed limit in the state from 70 to 75 miles an hour on divided highways, reports the Lawrence Journal-World . The measure also allows motorcyclists and bicyclists to go through red lights if the signal fails to change. Texas lawmakers, too, are clearing the way for faster travel. The Texas House voted to eliminate the 5 mph difference in speed limits between night and day driving and to allow trucks to go as fast as cars, the Austin American Statesman writes. Earlier, the House approved setting automobile speed limits on new highways at 85 mph-the fastest in the nation; that measure is pending in the Senate.
ATLANTA WISH LIST: Before Georgia voters decide next year whether to approve a sales tax hike for transportation, Atlanta officials are compiling a list of what, exactly, the new tax money would pay for. The list, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution , includes 436 projects costing $29 billion, even though the tax increase would create only $8 billion in additional money. In a separate analysis , the paper noted that the proposals tended to favor mass transit. Projects for trains and buses made up at least $13 billion of the total requested.
FLORIDA TRADEOFF? A key congressman from Florida hinted that he may pressure Governor Rick Scott to let the Orlando area go ahead and build a commuter rail system, notes Transportation Nation . U.S. Representative John Mica, a Republican who heads the House Transportation Committee, was reacting to Scott's request for $75 million in federal funding to dredge the Miami harbor to accommodate larger ships. "Mica didn't directly say he was linking that decision to the governor's approval of the SunRail commuter train," Transportation Nation writes, "but he did bring up the similar timings for the two decisions."