Taxes may fill road funding hole

Staring at a multibillion-dollar road-funding shortfall, a North Carolina panel on Thursday began discussing a host of tax increases to generate money for road and bridge construction and maintenance.

Chairman Brad Wilson said all tax options – including charging drivers for how much they travel – are on the table as the 21st Century Transportation Committee looks at ways to fill a projected $64 billion construction shortage over the next 22 years.

“Sticking our head in the sand under the banner of ‘No new taxes' or ‘No new fees' is, I think, both irresponsible and a formula for failure,” Wilson said after the meeting, although he said the prospect of raising taxes is distasteful.

Among those options the panel will study is a plan to charge drivers for how much they drive – a contentious proposal some other states, including South Dakota, have kicked around.

Under the measure, North Carolina motorists would be taxed for every mile over the state's average they drive.

For example, a motorist's first 12,000 miles – an estimated average – would not be taxed, but drivers who go over that average would be charged a fraction of a penny for each additional mile, Wilson said. But how the state could measure and charge that has yet to be determined, he said.

Also being studied is a plan to transform roadways in dire need of maintenance, such as Interstate 95, into toll routes.

Wilson's call comes just months after the North Carolina Turnpike Authority secured millions in state money to help pay for new toll roads that won't be covered by user fees.

The panel also will consider hiking existing road and vehicle fees along with transferring some roads under state control to the counties.

State Rep. Nelson Cole, D-Rockingham, said local property taxes then could be raised to cover the maintenance of those transferred roads.

The state Fiscal Research Division estimates that less than $1 of the average resident's local property taxes go toward highways, while the national average is $27.