The Alabama legislature nearly unanimously passed a new funding formula for the state’s roads and bridges Wednesday evening, in what legislators and outside groups are celebrating as a return to greater local control of transportation funds.
The bill, SB180, establishes the Alabama Transportation Safety Fund, which will receive revenues designated for “maintenance, improvement, replacement, and construction of state, county, and municipal roads and bridges within the state.”
Under the new bill the first $32,000,000 in transportation revenues levied under any new tax or revenue measures will be divided equally among Alabama’s 67 counties, with $500,000 going directly to each county commission for use solely on roads and bridges.
Though he is against increasing the proposed gas tax, Representative Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) says the bill is a step in the right direction for local control and equitable distribution of funds should they lose that battle.
“We wanted to make sure the revenue was distributed fairly, and that it would go to all areas of the state, not just large projects,” Ainsworth told Alabama Today. “The bill guarantees money is going to go to counties with rural areas as well. From my standpoint it protects my constituents in Marshall County, if they were to pass the tax, to make sure Marshall County residents get their fair share.”
The bill also provides for the public notice of, and periodic reporting on new projects taken on by the Alabama Department of Transportation.
The Business Council of Alabama also praised the bill’s passage, saying it “paves the way for the first new investment in Alabama’s road and bridge infrastructure in the last quarter-century.”
The BCA, which heavily supports increasing the state’s gas tax, called SB180 “heavily responsible and accountable” in a press release Wednesday afternoon.
“The Senate for its previous passage of SB 180 and now House members deserve praise for supporting this responsible and accountable legislation,” said BCA President and CEO William J. Canary. “A well-supported surface transportation system is as important to manufacturing, wholesale, and retail businesses and industries for profitability and job creation as any other component of a successful business model.”
“Today, Alabama legislators exercised true leadership by voting in favor of SB 180,” added Jim Page, CEO of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce and spokesperson for the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure. “We applaud the members of the legislature who recognize that we can no longer ignore Alabama’s crumbling infrastructure. If our state wants to remain economically competitive and keep our citizens safe, then we must invest in and protect funding for our roads and bridges.”
The proposed gas tax increase, which would raise Alabama’s tax on fuel to the average of its neighboring states, is currently on the House calendar, but with only 8 days left in the 2016 Regular Session, would need to overcome several obstacles and move quickly to become law.