Senators continued a second day of general file debate March 26 on a bill that would enable the state to borrow money to fund road construction. It advanced to select file after a successful cloture vote.
LB1092, as introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas, would have authorized the State Highway Commission to issue up to $400 million in bonds for highway construction projects. The amount was reduced to $200 million by a Revenue Committee amendment March 12.
Under the bill, at least 25 percent of bond proceeds would be dedicated to construction of federally designated, high priority corridors and the expressway system through Chadron, Alliance and Scottsbluff.
The bonds would be repaid with revenue from the State Highway Capital Improvement Fund, which currently receives .25 percent of the state sales and use tax. LB1092 also would pledge the revenue from all fuel taxes, registration fees and other highway user fees for the purpose of bond repayment. Interest rates for the bonds would not be allowed to exceed five percent.
Citing a state Department of Roads needs assessment, Dubas said road projects over the next 20 years would cost $14.1 billion. Bonding accelerates delayed projects and helps the state overcome decreasing gas tax revenues caused by conservative driving habits and fuel-efficient cars, she said.
“The gas tax revenues are simply not going to continue to be there like they have in the past,” she said. “If we go this route … it gets more construction projects going in a quicker fashion and at the end of the day you’re going to save money in the long run.”
Hyannis Sen. Al Davis supported the bill, saying quality highways will address population losses in rural Nebraska.
“You have to face the brutal fact that business development requires infrastructure; most businesses aren’t going to look at development in a community that doesn’t have a divided highway,” he said.
Bancroft Sen. Lydia Brasch opposed the bill. She said the bonds would give Nebraskans a false expectation that projects would be completed more quickly, when the department currently requires eight years for the completion of a road project.
Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers also spoke against the bill, saying that it breaks with the state’s tradition of paying for projects with currently available funds and places a financial burden on future legislatures.
“This is a bill that is a radical departure from the way the state has conducted business when it comes to road building and maintenance,” he said. “If we put a bad plan in place, then future generations are going to be negatively impacted by it.”
A motion by Chambers to bracket the bill until April 17 failed, as did a Chambers technical amendment.
Dubas moved to invoke cloture—or cease debate and force a vote on the bill—which senators approved on a 34-14 vote. LB1092 then advanced to select file on a 32-14 vote.