News

More money needed to keep N.C. moving

If you look at the Web pages of the candidates for governor, you'll see that Republican Pat McCrory and Democrat Bev Perdue don't disagree much about planning for our state's transportation future. Unfortunately, they don't say much, either.

Both consider transportation planning to be vitally important. Both would stop the transfer of money from the Highway Trust Fund to pay for other state programs. Both say they would reform the Department of Transportation, and push for various efficiencies and heightened responsibilities.

But neither mentions a word about what's really needed: A vastly different system of financing our state's highway construction and renovation and other needs, such as expanded public transit.

The present revenue system isn't up to the job, as evidenced by a projected $65 billion gap between needs and revenues by 2030. As population and highway use grows, the gap gets bigger.

The candidates talk about better transportation but offer no hints about how they'd raise the billions of dollars needed to pay for it. Mr. McCrory's stance is especially interesting, since he advocates capping the gasoline tax – the primary source of state transportation money – but doesn't mention other sources of revenue.

The members of the 21st Century Transportation Committee, appointed by the governor and the General Assembly, cannot operate under the illusion that benefits will come without costs. They're looking at other options for funding transportation needs.

What are some of those options? Other states are using toll roads and toll lanes, public-private partnerships for construction and maintenance, and taxes based on highway use – as measured by number of miles an automobile is driven in the state – rather than on the purchase of gasoline.

In addition, there may be a need to reallocate responsibility for the road network. During the Great Depression, the state took responsibility for secondary roads from the counties because many counties weren't collecting enough in property taxes to maintain their road network. Reform of the road financing system should include some giving county and municipal governments more responsibility and additional funding options.

An inadequate transportation network threatens our state's economic vitality. Education must always be this state's No. 1 priority. But transportation must be a strong No. 2. So far, neither candidate for governor is dealing seriously with that challenge. No doubt as the campaign goes along they'll offer more detail.

  Comments