SOUTHERN UTAH – The Utah Legislature is hoping to spend less money repairing state roads by putting away funds to maintain those roads now.
State Senator Steve Urquhart (R-St. George) said the Legislature voted on Friday to override Governor Gary Herbert’s veto of the transportation fund bill. The bill ensured roads would be maintained by using sales tax dollars that are set aside specifically for transportation.
“This will take items that relate to transportation, like car parts and oil changes. The sales tax off those things will go to into this dedicated fund,” Urquhart said.
Seventeen percent of all sales tax in the state is generated from transportation service items such as oil changes. The state would use 30 percent of that 17 percent and put it in a transportation fund.
During a good economy, the state has the cash to spend money on roads, while other states like California are bonding during a good economy, he said. During a down economy, Utah uses the transportation funds to fund other program like salaries and education.
“It really seems that educators, education establishments, should be considering this as good funding,” Urquhart said.
He said by saving this money for transportation now, it can be used in difficult times for other programs.
“Transportation, especially maintenance, that’s not sexy,” he said. “So you have to set aside money for expenditures that aren’t sexy. Otherwise when you get into a downturn, you simply won’t fund them. The Governor says this is robbing education. No one is going to rob education. Education is a huge winner. The huge loser (in a down economy) is transportation.”
Urquhart said in the past year, the Legislature decided not to adequately maintain 60 percent of the roads. Things like pot holes will be fixed, he said, but resurfacing will not be put on the roads. He pointed out that areas like Bluff Street in front of Dairy Queen are areas that need work but are not being maintained.
“We’re gambling that the economy will come back,” he said. “If it doesn’t, and we do this long enough (not maintaining the roads), the roads fail and our costs escalate. It is a lot cheaper to maintain than go in and repair and redo.”
Urquhart said the money in the transportation fund could still be removed for education.
“We know how to rob that fund,” he said. “The Governor, when he puts out his proposed budget, he can ignore that and put the money to sexier expenditures.”
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