Lawmakers To Discuss Transportation Funding

Gov. Daugaard: "This Is A Year That We Need To Act To Adequately Fund Our Roads."

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has outlined his $4.3 billion state budget proposal to the legislature.

While the Governor’s proposal includes an increase in education funding and health programs, he only briefly mentioned transportation spending.

Money for transportation needs doesn’t get taken out of the general fund, that’s why we didn’t hear about it from the Governor. But we do expect to hear a lot about it during this year’s legislative session.

Daugaard spoke for 80 minutes about his plans to balance the state budget.

Daugaard said, “This is a year that we need to act to adequately fund our roads.”

It wasn’t until the very end that he spoke about transportation funding. The Governor only spent a few sentences on it, but that was music to Republican Senator Mike Vehle’s ears.

Vehle said, “Our two largest pieces of our economy are agriculture and tourism and they’re totally dependent upon good transportation.”

Vehle was the chairman of a 15 member legislative committee that studied highway needs and financing over the summer. He says right now our roads are in good shape, but if funds for transportation stay the same over the next ten years, they won’t be for long.

Vehle said, “We’ll have over 50 percent of our roads that are either in fair or poor condition and the traveling public will just not be happy with that.”

The state would need $140 million in additional funds to keep up, the counties would need around $84 million and the townships would need $30 million. That doesn’t include the work that needs to be done on bridges.

“There was no way we could cover all the needs that are out there. We’re looking at something that is probably about 40 percent of what the identified need was, between 35 and 40 percent,” said Vehle.

That committee is proposing tax hikes to fund transportation funding, which would include increasing the excise tax and taking a percentage of the wholesale tax on gasoline. For right now, they’re only potential solutions.

Daugaard said, “I thank the interim committee for making a specific proposal to start the discussion among many other discussions in the next session.”

The committee traveled to eight different cities throughout the state this summer and heard from around 120 state and local officials. Vehle says out of the 15 committee members, 12 voted in favor of the proposal that they will be bringing to the legislature.

The 2015 legislative session will begin in January.

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