A gas tax cap would mean $47 million in cuts for Meck, Union
A plan by state lawmakers to freeze the gas tax would cut $47 million in transportation funding from Mecklenburg and Union counties over the next ten years. Those figures come from preliminary estimates done by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, as the General Assembly prepares to vote on House Bill 399. The bill, designed to cap the state’s gas tax rate at 32.5 cents per gallon, would create serious funding issues for NCDOT, officials said.
“Just like a private business, if revenue is not coming in, we have to make adjustments,” NCDOT Communications Director Greer Beaty said. “A gas tax cap would significantly impact our ability to schedule and then find funding for new projects.”
Faced with rising costs and declining revenues, NCDOT projects that freezing the gas tax would cost the department more than $1 billion over the next ten years. Specifically for Union County, that translates into $13 million in lost dollars, $12.4 million of which would come from the resurfacing and repaving sections. That $12.4 million is the equivalent of 310 miles of road in Union that wouldn’t be repaved, if potholes formed. Additionally, local towns would lose $268,902 in Powell Bill money, funds each municipality gets from the state to help repair roads the town maintains. If the Powell Bill funding goes away, towns would still have to pay for repairs, except this time it would be out of pocket. Finally, the cut would take away $333,344 in funding for secondary road improvements over a ten year period.
The DOT budgeted $5.4 million for work on Union roads this past fiscal year, from asphalt repairs to traffic lights to grass mowing. The DOT maintains 1,104 miles of secondary paved roads and 51 miles of unpaved roads across Union County.
“Our figures show that for each penny lost in gas tax, the department loses $50 million annually,” NCDOT Division 10 engineer Barry Moose said, adding that as costs increase, without a revenue stream to match, funding will have to be taken away from regions.
The impact of the current gas tax translates to $7.50 extra per driver in North Carolina, according to NCDOT figures, based off an estimate that drivers travel an average of 15,000 miles per year. Without an increase in the tax, initial figures show that NCDOT will have to reduce the transportation projects budget by $125 million per year, over the next decade.“We maintain more roads than any state with the exception of Texas,” Beaty said. “Thousands and thousands of bridges and roads. If (the gas tax) goes up two cents (per gallon), that’s roughly the cost of a pizza. Is it worth buying one less pizza (to have) the potholes filled?”
Large construction projects, such as the proposed Rea Road extension and widening of Monroe Road wouldn’t be affected, Beaty said, as those funds come from different pots of money.
Fuel-efficiency standards tightening
A report issued last year said that a gas tax hike is necessary because of plans to put more fuel-efficient cars on the road. It highlighted the Corporate Fuel Economy Standard signed into law in December 2007, which requires vehicles to use an average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Vehicles currently use an average of 25 to 30 miles per gallon.
“With these projected increases in fleet fuel-efficiency and growth in use of alternative fuel vehicles, the fuel taxes that are the backbone of transportation revenues will continue to shrink,” the initial report said.
The fuel-efficiency standards are part of the larger Energy Independence and Security Act, which ordered automotive energy standards to be raised by at least 25 percent by 2015. NCDOT officials said the state eventually wants to eliminate the gas tax and begin charging to a miles-traveled system. Modeled after similar programs in Oregon and Holland, the plan is to charge people based on the number of miles they drive annually. North Carolina currently is considering a similar program. Satellite technology, similar to GPS, would be installed in cars.