Pierre Direct Line

Pierre Direct Line By Rep. Judy Clark For the past two weeks of the legislative session, the Appropriations Committee has been hearing budget requests from state agencies for Fiscal Year 2000.

Our House committee is combined with the Senate Appropriations committee. It is then divided into two sub-committees to reduce the number of agencies each hears and allow more in-depth questions.

This year there were many questions for the Department of Transportation. Most of them dealt with the new Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21).

The U.S. Congress appropriated $1.146 billion dollars to South Dakota to be spent over the next 6 years. Of this amount, $177 million per year is so-called formula funds which must be spent or lost. Along with the formula funds is $14 million per year earmarked for High Priority Projects. HPP money is available forever, or until Congress decides to change the appropriation formula.

Both these fund amounts must be matched with local dollars at about a 20/80 match.

And therein lies the problem.

How do we come up with $15 million extra dollars (our matching amount) a year? Or do we turn down $191 million dollars a year?

This is why you've been hearing talk about a possible 3 cent per gallon gas tax increase. With a 3 cent tax we could raise the needed $15 million per year match for the TEA 21 funds.

A gas tax dedicated to road repair and building is seen as a user tax. Those who use the roads, help pay for them. Those who use them a lot, pay more.

And our state roads and interstates get lots of use. Although our state system has only 9.4 percent of the total road mile in South Dakota, those roads get 69 percent of the traffic! To catch up on our backlog of resurfacing and reconstruction would cost $622,000,000!

Even without statistics, you and I know our roads need help.

Just recently the last 3 cent gas tax expired. I doubt if any of us could tell the day, week or month that happened. Sales figures in South Dakota showed no blip of any kind when it happened.

Our neighboring states will also be raising their gas tax, or finding another way to raise matching funds, since every state received the large increase in TEA 21 monies.

This is one solution to raising the needed matching funds. Tell me what you think about it. My number at Pierre is 605-773-3851 and at home is 605-624-9795. My home email address is deanclark@dtgnet.com.

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