- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Gov. Jack Markell proposed a 10-cent increase in Delaware’s gas tax on Wednesday to pay for $500 million in additional spending on roads and bridges in Delaware, an election-year proposal that could prove a tough sell in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

“We should absolutely get this done,” the Democratic governor said. “Nobody particularly wants to do this, but we have to do it.

In his State of the State address last week, Markell proposed investing $1.1 billion in the state transportation trust fund over the next five years. That’s a $500 million increase over the current spending plan.

Administration officials say the increased infrastructure spending will help alleviate congestion and ensure a safe transportation network, create jobs, and help spur economic growth.

“The bottom line is that the transportation trust fund lacks a reliable revenue source, and we’re here today to propose a fix for that,” Markell said.

In addition to the gas tax increase, officials are proposing an additional $50 million in annual borrowing.

Markell said his proposals are a fiscally responsible approach to tackling some of the recommendations of a 2011 task force report outlining transportation challenges facing the state.

The task force expressed concerns about the long-term sustainability of the trust fund because of slower-than-projected revenue growth and increased capital needs. Among other things, the panel concluded that projected revenues for fiscal year 2012 through fiscal year 2023 would cover only about 70 percent of an estimated $12.4 billion in transportation spending.

Administration officials said the state’s transportation spending challenges include flat revenues, residual debt, rising construction costs, increased transit expenses and ongoing maintenance needs.

They said raising the gas tax from 23 cents a gallon to 33 cents a gallon would cost about $57 more a year for a typical motorist who drives about 14,000 miles a year and averages 23.5 miles a gallon.

Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt said Delaware’s gas tax, which was last increased in 1995, hasn’t kept pace with the consumer price index and that the purchasing power of a dollar in 1995 is now only 65 cents. Continuing to delay project because funding is not available simply results in more deterioration of the existing infrastructure, resulting in higher costs, he said.

“Most importantly, we’re dealing with a lot of safety projects,” Bhatt said, adding that, even with the proposed increase, Delaware’s gas tax would remain lower than the gas tax in some surrounding states.

“We understand that $4.50 a month is real money to people, but it’s also real money that’s needed for infrastructure investment,” he said.

State lawmakers reacted cautiously to Markell’s proposal.

“I’m not in favor of it at this point,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear. “It will be discussed in caucus on Thursday.”

Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, R-Wilmington, said the proposal needs to be seen in the context of several other issues, including other spending ideas outlined by Markell, economic burdens on small businesses, and the ongoing use of trust fund money to pay DelDOT’s operating expenses.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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