AL’s Road Builders May Push for Fuel Tax Increase in February

Fri January 16, 2004 - Southeast Edition

MONTGOMERY, AL (AP) Alabama’s road-building industry could push for higher fuel taxes when the Legislature meets Feb. 3 to avoid losing millions of dollars in federal transportation grants.

Industry lobbyist Billy Norrell said a 5 cents per gallon increase on gasoline and diesel fuel would help pay for upgrades on roads, mass and rural transit and small airports.

State Rep. Jack Venable, D-Tallassee, who chairs the Rules Committee, said a fuel-tax increase would be a hard sell “when we’re facing so many other budget problems.”

But Norrell, executive director of the Alabama Road Builders Association, said the state could miss qualifying for millions of dollars in future federal transportation grants without the higher taxes. The federal government grants states $4 for every dollar raised in state fuel taxes or other matching state money.

The suggested 5 cents increase could raise about $120 million a year, Norrell told the Birmingham News.

“I hope people realize that we have transportation needs all over the state that aren’t being met,” he said. “We want to take advantage of everything that’s available for Alabama.”

Norrell said his association’s board of directors hasn’t settled on a final tax proposal, but he expects it could be approximately a nickel a gallon. The board meets Jan. 15 on the issue.

In the past, Alabama has qualified for all the matching federal transportation money available to it. But Norrell said that may not happen this year.

Congress is still debating the size of the federal transportation program for the next six years.

Several key state lawmakers predicted the road builders would have difficulty getting the Legislature to raise fuel taxes this spring. They said needs are more urgent at state agencies other than the Department of Transportation (ALDOT).

“Any raising of revenue that I’m interested in will deal with Medicaid and human resources and children’s programs that are being cut across the state,” said state Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery.

State fuel taxes now total 18 cents a gallon, with most of it spent by counties and ALDOT for highways and bridges. ALDOT officials said they could use more money. The department spends approximately $120 million a year for highway maintenance, but officials said $250 to $300 million a year is needed.

“There’s no question that we need more money for improving roads in this state,” said Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega. But Preuitt, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, added, “The people aren’t in a taxing mood.”