Transportation funding package passes | NevadaAppeal.com

Transportation funding package passes

After days of contentious debate in committee and on the floor of the Senate, the legislation to provide nearly $2 billion to pay for construction of major highway projects cleared the Senate on an 18-3 vote Sunday.

The bill now goes to Gov. Jim Gibbons, who has already signed off on its provisions.

The vote came after Republicans, on a party line vote, beat back a Democratic caucus attempt to add an advisory vote of the people on whether diesel taxes should be increased to match the total tax imposed on gasoline.

“Why should big truckers pay less than ordinary citizens?” Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, asked the body.

She pointed out that the diesel tax is 27 cents a gallon while gasoline is taxed at 33 cents even though every study says heavy trucks are responsible for much of the damage to highways.

“They do a disproportionate amount of damage to the nation’s highways and have not paid their proportionate share of the damage they cause,” she said.

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She said the governor and Republican majority should have no problem putting the question before voters.

But Senate Transportation Chairman Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, described the amendment as flawed saying the way diesel is taxed, it isn’t broken out by county. The amendment also would require that diesel and other taxes raised in one county be spent in that county.

And he defended Gibbons’ hard line stance that he will veto the measure if it increases taxes.

The GOP stood together, defeating the proposed amendment 10-11.

Instead, the plan shifts money from existing county revenues. The biggest chunk of money in the bill comes by taking part of the existing property tax collected in Clark County – enough to bond for a total of $1.2 billion over the next decade. It also takes a piece of a car rental surcharge to generate some $148 million in bond proceeds and requires the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Authority to sell and pay for bonds to generate $520 million over that period. Altogether it would produce $1.86 billion for road projects.

And AB595 specifies which road projects should be built with that money. It would provide $157 million for the U.S. 395 corridor in the Reno area. The other projects are all in the Las Vegas area: U.S. 95 Northwest corridor, I-15 from the Spaghetti Bowl to Tropicana, U.S.15 South Corridor and the Beltway Interchanges in Las Vegas.

Titus had earlier threatened that Democrats might deny the bill the necessary two-thirds majority to pass. But with the pressure on from the south to do something to relieve gridlock, only three southern Democrats voted no on the bill itself: Maggie Carlton, Terry Care and Bob Coffin.

Coffin charged that Republicans “beat down an amendment to bring some of the people to the table who aren’t there.” He said truckers aren’t paying their fair share and described the bill as “a miserable excuse of a bill to steal money from the convention authority, rental cars and, by the way, take money from the county.”

He said the opponents from southern Nevada “failed to do their duty to their constituents.”

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.

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