Statewide gas tax defeated

Published 3:00 am Friday, April 14, 2017

A proposed statewide gas tax that would have funded improvements to county roads and bridges is likely dead according to House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monroeville.

The bill was pulled from the House floor Thursday after running into heavy opposition.

The Pike County Commission successfully passed a resolution in support of the bill in March after several weeks of debate among commissioners.

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Commissioners Russell Johnson, District 6, and Chad Copeland, District 4, were the two commissioners to vote against the resolution.

Johnson said he’s not surprised that the bill ran into trouble.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Johnson said. “Commissioner Copeland and I weren’t the only ones in the state against it … It was a Band-aid to open heart surgery.”

Under the proposal, the state gas tax would have risen by 4 cents per gallon this year and another 2 cents in 2019. It could rise by another 3 cents in 2024. The tax increases would have served as payment for a $2.25 billion bond that would have been shared with counties to repair and construct roads and bridges.

When the commission passed a resolution in support of the plan, the proposed gas tax was 3 cents per gallon, went exclusively to counties (with 20 percent going to the cities) and would have allowed counties to choose any roads that needed repair.

By the time it made it up for a procedural vote in the House though, all three of those pitches had changed as the tax became a step-increase to 9 percent by 2024, designated some money to go to the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and limited roads eligible for the funds to specific traffic counts.

“That’s the reason I voted no on the resolution,” Copeland said. “There was no bill that we could bank that off of and that exact thing we stated is what happened: when the bill came out, they had traffic counts on them. We were going to be restricted on some of these roads anyway, so the bill morphed just like we thought it would.”

Commission Chairman Robin Sullivan, District 2, was one of the commissioners who voted to support the legislation. He said he hopes the Legislature doesn’t abandon it.

“I would hope that they come to some kind of an agreement,” Sullivan said. “We are in dire need of funding for road and bridge work. We are at a standstill now because there is no funding and there hasn’t been any change since 1992.”

Johnson said he agrees that Pike County, and all of the counties in the state, need more funding for roads and bridges, but said this legislation was not the right solution.

“My problem was with how the funding would be provided,” Johnson said. “It was going to split up the money and take 15 years to pay the bond off … I didn’t want to support something I knew mathematically wasn’t a long-term answer r… We need an annual revenue that can be put in budget and systematically spent on road and bridge maintenance and construction.”

Copeland said that ultimately the county may need to find a way to solve its own problems.

“One of most important parts is here we are again with an infrastructure problem and no fix. It’s almost time in Pike County that we’ve got to quit looking at Montgomery to fix the problem and come up with our own solution.”