Senate approves approach for more highway, bridge aid

Farm Forum

PIERRE — State senators voted on Feb. 11 for a smorgasbord of increases in fuel taxes, registration fees and property taxes to provide more funding for state, county and township roads and bridges.

The vote was 26-8 to send the legislation, Senate Bill 1, to the House of Representatives. The House hasn’t taken a vote yet on its version, House Bill 1131, which was introduced for the governor.

A key similarity in the two bills at this point is acceptance of the concept of annual 2-cent tax increases per gallon for gasoline and alcohol blends. The Senate version caps those after eight years. The House version allows them to run 15 years.

Neither side of the Legislature so far has accepted the original approach proposed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard of allowing the 2-cent increases to run perpetually.

The Senate version now is stripped to about half of its original estimated $100 million starting point. Senators removed a wholesale fuel tax, a new tax on agricultural-use dyed diesel and an additional registration fee for hybrid-fuel and electric vehicles that use less gasoline.

Currently, the estimate for the Senate version is approximately $50 million. But Sen. Jim Peterson, D-Revillo, noted the full amount would reach approximately $230 million by 2023.

That is when all of the 2-cent escalators have kicked in and counties and townships fully utilize the additional property-taxing authority they would receive.

Sen. Mike Vehle, who presided as chairman for the special legislative study last year that produced the original version of Senate Bill 1, pleaded with other senators on Feb. 11 to not take their marbles and go home if they lost provisions that were in the original plan.

Vehle, R-Mitchell, returned to the line he used so often last year. “If you got it, a road brought it. There’s not much that’s parachuted in,” he said.

Other senators in turn praised Vehle for his years of work trying to increase taxes to pay for better roads and safer bridges. The last round of increases for state funding came 16 years ago under then-Gov. Bill Janklow.

Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton of Burke called Vehle “a true statesman.”

Various senators said they took their positions on Feb. 11 knowing the issue likely will return eventually for further negotiation.

The measure needed a two-thirds majority because taxes are raised. Neither party’s senators got in a straight line to support it or oppose it.

“It’s not a Republican issue. It’s not a Democratic issue. It’s a roads issue,” Senate Republican leader Tim Rave of Baltic said. “This issue is far from over.”

The eight senators voting against the package were Democrats Jim Bradford of Pine Ridge, Angie Buhl O’Donnell of Sioux Falls and Jason Frerichs of Wilmot; and Republicans Brock Greenfield of Clark, Jenna Haggar of Sioux Falls, Phil Jensen of Rapid City, Betty Olson of Prairie City and David Omdahl of Sioux Falls.

The House State Affairs Committee is holding the governor’s plan for a Feb. 18 hearing. The House Transportation Committee held a hearing on it and made changes, such as capping the 2-cent increases at 15 years.

But the bill was then shifted to the State Affairs Committee at the request of its chairman, House Republican leader Brian Gosch of Rapid City, more than a week ago.

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