CAPITAL COMMENT: Scott is urged to keep roads dollars in state
At least that’s the view of a group of transportation advocates — including Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields — who reviewed the operation of the state Department of Transportation as part of incoming Gov. Rick Scott’s transition team.
The review noted Florida’s “dismal donor state status,” where historically for every dollar in federal gas taxes the state sends to Washington, Florida only gets back 86 cents.
In fact for the most recent year where numbers are available, Florida was only getting back 79 cents due to federal funding formulas that favored other states.
That could change with ascension of U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, to the chairmanship of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure this month. Mica may be in a position to help rework the formulas where Florida, which has fallen billions of dollars behind in its need for revamped highways, ports and mass transit, could receive more money.
Adding to the momentum is another U.S. House transportation committee member — newly elected U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, a former state House speaker who has been a longtime advocate for Florida transportation issues.
And that is all set against the backdrop of Scott’s promise to change the way Tallahassee is operating.
“The stars are perhaps aligning for us to make some significant changes,” said Doug Callaway, who also participated in the transition report and is head of Floridians for Better Transportation, a lobbying group for road builders and other transportation interests.
Among the ideas that have been floated is a so-called “turnback” where over a period of three to four years, the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax could be cut by 12 cents, with the state replacing the federal levy with a state tax.
The turnback would still provide enough money through the six cents of federal tax to maintain the federal Interstate system, while giving the state an additional 12 cents of funding that would be free of federal funding restrictions and eliminate the “donor” status problem, the advocates said.
Another proposal would let the nation’s 10 largest states — including Florida — keep 95 percent of the federal taxes levied in the state, while sending 5 percent back to the federal government.
The “95 percent solution” would help Florida and the other large donor states, while still providing enough money nationally to hold the other 40 states “harmless” in the reworked funding formula.
“Enjoying the benefits of simplicity, and with potentially large majorities in both houses of Congress benefiting, this proposal could be a ‘game changer’ in Washington,” the report said.
In addition to calling for a renewed effort to change federal transportation funding, the DOT transition report also makes the case that providing more funding for roads could help Scott reach his goal of creating nearly 700,000 new jobs over seven years.
The report urges Scott to reject efforts to shift money out of the DOT’s road-building funds to support other state programs, like schools or health care.
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