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Perdue Says New N.C. Highway Projects Fund Needed

Tue June 08, 2010 - Southeast Edition
Gary D. Robertson - ASSOCIATED PRESS


Mayors joined Gov. Beverly Perdue on May 24 to urge the Legislature to create this year a dedicated fund to build urgent road and other transportation projects they said are needed to keep the state’s economic engines roaring in the decades ahead.

Perdue wants the General Assembly to create the North Carolina Mobility Fund, which the governor said would generate up to nearly $300 million annually by 2013 through higher driver’s license fees, the end of a trade-in sales tax break on new car sales and shifting around other pots of money.

The governor said the Department of Transportation would use the fund to pay for efforts to ease congestion with projects of statewide significance. The current road-funding formula punishes regions that want to spend money on large projects, making them hard to accomplish.

The fund likely would first be used to widen several miles of Interstate 85 close to the Yadkin River Bridge in Davidson and Rowan counties — a key shipping corridor between Atlanta and points north. Work is about ready to start to replace the aging bridge by issuing bonds.

“North Carolina values the safety of our businesses and the people who call North Carolina home and travel through North Carolina,” Perdue told reporters at a news conference. “It’s our obligation to make our traveling public safe.”

A portion of Mobility Fund money also would go to interstate maintenance, city transportation projects and improving the state’s ports to attract industries that rely on shipping.

“The Mobility Fund is all about job creation,” Morehead City Mayor Jerry Jones said. “We need to find new revenue.”

Perdue inserted the fund in her budget proposal in April, but Senate Democrats declined to put the measure in their $19 billion spending plan. Senators didn’t have enough time to consider the idea in the first week of the session but they’re “open to new ways to fund transportation and are studying this issue,” said Schorr Johnson, spokesman for Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare.

The House is now considering its own version of the budget. While some House members back the idea, Sen. Nelson Cole, D-Rockingham, co-chairman of the House budget transportation subcommittee, isn’t sold on it when the state unemployment rate is more than 10 percent.

“I don’t think this is the time to be enhancing revenue,” said Cole, adding that people are “looking for a paycheck, not a way to pay us in taxes.”

The North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association also said it was concerned about what it called a “double taxation” strategy to build up the fund starting in 2012 by eliminating a provision that allows consumers to reduce their sales tax bill on car purchases if they trade in an old car. For example, trading in a car valued at $10,000 reduces the sales tax on the new car by $300. Cole is a retired automobile dealer.

State schools superintendent June Atkinson, speaking earlier May 24 at a news conference of officials representing teachers, school boards and the PTA, said schools should come in the budget before filling potholes or other government priorities.

“That work doesn’t go away. Those kids still have to be transported to school, they still have to be fed, and they need instruction in an environment that provides for the individual needs and is safe,” North Carolina Association of Educators President Sheri Strickland said.

Perdue’s proposal would increase some fees in the coming year, including raising annual state vehicle registrations from $28 to $35 for cars and light trucks.

Perdue said it would be shortsighted of the Legislature to avoid the issue because of what she called election-year worries over fees or taxes.

“I don’t know of any business, both in North Carolina now and outside North Carolina, who will ever walk away from laying down jobs in this state because of what the cost of a DOT fee is or what the cost of a registration fee is,” Perdue said. “They will walk away if the infrastructure doesn’t meet their needs to do business.”

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