Vehle: Governor ‘too frugal’ on roads, bridges

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Farm Forum

PIERRE — The legislator who’s worked hardest and longest for more road and bridge funding in South Dakota sounded both pleased and disappointed Tuesday about the governor’s $50.5 million proposal.

“I’m grateful we have a governor who recognizes the need,” Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, said.

Vehle paused, then presented the other side of his opinion.

“(The governor) likes to be frugal. Maybe he’s a little too frugal.”

Vehle was chairman for the Legislature’s interim committee on highway needs and financing during the past nine months.

The panel’s product is Senate Bill 1, a $100 million package that touches at least most of the fees and taxes that apply to motor fuels and vehicles.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard didn’t mention SB 1 until five pages into the seven-page section about roads and bridges in his State of the State speech on Tuesday that kicked off the 2015 session of the Legislature.

Vehle said Daugaard left out the committee’s proposals to expand the wheel tax from a maximum of four wheels to 12 and didn’t address any additional revenue from hybrid and electric vehicles.

The governor also didn’t endorse a tax on dyed-diesel fuel used in agriculture implements. The committee had proposed a new tax of 7 cents per gallon that had many farmers and ranchers on edge.

The absence of the dyed-diesel tax pleased another legislator who served on the interim committee, but wouldn’t vote for the panel’s package. Sen. Jim Peterson, D-Revillo, called the governor’s plan “a start” and praised Daugaard for stepping forward.

“That was something we really needed, because you’re just foundering around when you don’t have leadership from the top,” Peterson, a farmer, said.

Sen. David Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, said the Legislature needs to “do something” on roads and bridges this year.

“I don’t know what the answer is at this point,” Novstrup said. “Fifty (million) looks a lot more reasonable than a hundred (million) though.”

Sen. Bob Ewing, R-Spearfish, served on the interim committee, but didn’t support the final package. “It was too much,” Ewing said. “I think the governor’s proposal is do-able.”

Both Ewing and Peterson said they don’t like the governor’s suggestion that registration fees be increased on trucks used for agriculture purposes. They said those vehicles often aren’t on the roads more than a few weeks of the year.

Rising bid prices on projects in western South Dakota recently led the state Transportation Commission to remove some Rapid City-area projects from its current four-year plan. That’s one reason why Sen. Alan Solano, R-Rapid City, is willing to consider some tax and fee increases.

“I think there’s agreement something needs to be done,” Solano said. “The challenge is really going to be deciding what.”

Legislators said they expect the governor will submit his plan as a House bill. That would create a situation where the Senate would consider the interim committee’s plan and the House would consider the governor’s plan. Then each chamber would send its product across to the other chamber.

Rep. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, said the governor’s remarks were positive. She served on the interim committee. She said Vehle and the committee led the way by doing the research, holding the hearings and traveling to public meetings across South Dakota.

“He (the governor) took some pieces, made some adjustments to fit his,” Hunhoff said. “I myself believe there’s compromise in this.

“That (the governor’s plan) was front and center. That raises the issue for everyone.”

Sen. Scott Parsley, D-Madison, also served on the interim committee. He wondered where the governor’s proposals for helping teachers and health care workers were.

“I could make the same arguments he made with education,” Parsley said. “I was very disappointed to not hear the word ‘educators’ at all or ‘care providers.’”

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