Commissioners: Gas tax solves need

Published 8:41 pm Thursday, March 14, 2019

Pike County officials say the passage of historic state gas tax increase this week gives the opportunity to solve problems now rather than pass them on to future generations.

Commissioner Chad Copeland said the cost of doing roadwork has increased 400 percent since 1992, the last time the gas tax in Alabama was increased. Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday signed a three-bill package designed to raise more than $300 million a year for roads in the state.

“I don’t want to pay more for gas,” Copeland said. “But I also don’t want to continue to push problems to my children that weren’t addressed in the generation before.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Under the new law, the state tax on gasoline and diesel fuel will increase by 6 cents a gallon after Aug. 31, followed by an additional 2 cents a gallon on Oct. 1, 2020, and another 2 cents on Oct. 1, 2021. Beginning in 2023, it will be adjusted according to a national highway construction cost index, and could change by no more than a penny every two years.

The 10-cent per gallon increase is expected to generated $320 million a year to fund road construction and maintenance. The Alabama Department of Transportation will get 67 percent of the money, counties will get 25 percent and cities will get 8 percent.

While Copeland said he dislikes tax increases as much as anyone, he hasn’t heard a better solution to the problem. “The only opposition is being more frugal,” Copeland said. “But we’ve been trying to be more frugal for 27 years.”

Commissioner Russell Johnson said the 100-year paving cycle created by a lack of funding before this bill inhibited solving citizens’ problems.

“When constituents call me and want me to come out and look at the problem in front of their house, I’ve got to tell those people I’m never going to fix this in your lifetime,” Johnson said before the bill was passed. “It may get fixed in your child’s lifetime.”

In considering why the gas tax increase was necessary, Johnson urged residents of Pike County to consider what they want the county to look like in 50 years.

“If we’re going to perpetuate the kind of community we have today, we’ve got to re-invest,” Johnson said. “We’ve been doing that in economic development public safety, and now we’re going to have a chance to do that with our infrastructure in a way that makes a difference.”

Commission Chairman Robin Sullivan said infrastructure issues need to be addressed now. “It’s time that we no longer kick the can down the road,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said Pike County previously received about $375,000 a year for road work but about $7 million to stay on a 15-year road cycle and a 50-year bridge cycle.

Pike County has 175 miles of road that needs to be paved as well as 61 bridges that have been posted for low weight, he said.

Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Troy, said safety was why he voted for the bill.

“Our roads are documented to be unsafe,” said Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba. “Three hundred and seventy-five thousand students are placed on a school bus on roads that are inadequate and unsafe.”

School buses taking detours to avoid bad roads add up to about 30 miles, Holley said.

Holley said he has worked with Pike County commissioners on this issue.

“I’m aware of the condition of the county roads in Pike County,” Holley said. “They desperately need repair.

“As we discussed with county commissioners, we’re going to do everything we can to help them upgrade the bridges and roads,” he said.

State Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy, cited the need for revenue in Pike County when he decided to vote yes.

“I carefully reviewed this legislation and the amendments that were introduced,” Allen said. “After considering all the facts made available to me and hearing from constituents across District 89 and elected leaders, including county commissioners of both Dale and Pike Counties, I felt that a yes vote was necessary to ensure that our district received millions of dollars that are vital to improving our roads and bridges.”