Last December, I joined county commissioners, engineers, and school officials on a tour of several roads and bridges in my district that needed immediate improvement. The sites we inspected made a very clear case that our rural transportation system is in crisis.
Shortly thereafter, the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee held a series of statewide “listening” events. During those stops, business leaders, economic development professionals, truckers and local officials discussed how underfunded roads and bridges are harming Alabama’s competitive position.
As the 2016 Legislative Session nears its end, almost everyone agrees more revenue is needed for transportation infrastructure.But somehow, the debate on providing additional revenue for infrastructure improvements is far from settled.
It’s been over 20 years since new revenue was dedicated for transportation in Alabama. In recent months, I’ve thought a lot about the 1992 session when the Legislature last approved an increase in road funding. As a rather young legislator, I actively supported that 5-cent per gallon increase in both the gasoline and diesel fuel tax. And I was resoundingly re-elected the next time my name was on the ballot.
This year alone, we’ll have about $160 million in additional revenue for state and local roads because of the courage shown in passing that nickel tax. Local businesses have used the improved roads to employ our friends and family members. Farmers have moved products on these roads. And school buses are safely carrying our children on the roads and bridges maintained with this revenue.
Every Alabamian has benefitted from the safety improvements made with those dollars. But inflation has overtaken the buying power of that nickel, and our infrastructure AND economy are suffering as a result.
Having served over 30 years in the Alabama Legislature, I’m not sure anyone is more accustomed to listening to “the people” than Gerald Dial. So I understand that no one — including the Dial family — is itching to pay additional taxes. But I also understand that our state’s economic future is directly tied to its transportation system. And it is our responsibility to invest in that system.
Consider this. If you drive 20,000 miles per year and your automobile averages 20 miles per gallon, then that 5-cent increase from the 1990s costs you $50 per year. Fifty dollars per year! That’s about the price of ONE 16-ounce soft drink per week.
The 1992 fuel tax increase costs us all very little, yet that revenue has been at the heart of our state’s economic growth for over two decades. Our state has weathered economic storms,attracted international industries, and educated two generations of children due to that investment.
Undoubtedly, there are hard decisions to be made in the coming weeks. I am proud to support an increase in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, because these taxes are the fairest that our state levies. Drive more, and you pay more tax. Drive less, and you pay less tax.
Of course, we have the option to do nothing this session. But in terms of finding the revenue we need to improve transportation in our state, we’ve already been doing “nothing” for more than two decades.