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A two-way fight over possibly transferring nearly a half-billion dollars from transportation funds to either education or water projects over the next 11 years turned into a three-way battle on Monday.
The House Transportation Committee voted 6-2 to endorse a bill, HB296, that would put that money instead into the state general fund, where it could go to any purpose that lawmakers decide each year.
Of course, a fourth possibility is to keep that money in transportation which one appropriations committee already has endorsed, and others warned on Monday that may be wise for a state with still-big projected transportation shortfalls.
Transportation Committee Chairman Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, sponsor of HB296, said the state has been earmarking some sales tax money for transportation with the argument that 17 percent of all sales tax is generated from purchases of cars and accessories.
The trouble is, he said the state soon will be taking 22 percent of all sales tax for transportation. "It's time to start putting money back," he said. So he wants to create a "glide path" to reduce that back to the 17 percent that comes from automobiles.
His bill would transfer back $10 million the first year, $20 million the second, $30 million the third, and so forth until $50 million a year is transferred back and that would continue into the future.
Gov. Gary Herbert proposed to do the same, but he proposed to give the money to education (a plan that appropriators rejected). Anderson would simply put it in the general fund.
The Utah Department of Transportation earlier told appropriators such transfers would cost $450 million over 11 years.
Meanwhile, the Senate has approved SB80 to transfer $472.6 million over 11 years from transportation to water projects, with bigger initial transfers. Critics contend it may fund a controversial Lake Powell pipeline that many environmental groups oppose.
Anderson said that his plan would not take money away from any currently approved and funded transportation projects, while SB80 would. However, UDOT has previously said some projects not yet funded could be delayed through plans such as Anderson's, and provided a list of them.
They included such things as continuing work to convert Bangerter Highway into a freeway, completion of the Mountain View Corridor freeway and construction of the proposed West Davis Corridor freeway in Davis and Weber counties.
Abby Albrecht, representing the Salt Lake Chamber and the Utah Transportation Coalition, noted that last year the Legislature passed a bill that increased the state's gasoline tax by 4.9 cents per gallon, and allowed counties to vote on Proposition 1 to impose a quarter-cent sales tax for local roads and transit.
She said that helped trim a projected $11.3 billion shortfall for needed projects through 2040 to $7 billion. While she did not directly oppose Anderson's bill, she reminded lawmakers that "we still have a lot of work to do to address the long-term needs of transportation."
Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, also opposed the bill saying the Legislature should be more aggressive in addressing transportation needs.