FUNDING: Utah lawmakers turn up heat on transportation funding transfer

March 2, 2016

Water projects would be the beneficiary; however, HB296 could make dollars unrestricted

The Utah House of Representatives passed a bill this week that would lift the earmark on a significant pocket of transportation funding and move that money to the state general fund, where it could be ostensibly used without restrictions. The House voted 44-27 to pass HB296, and sent it to the Senate.

The bill would transfer $10 million from transportation in its first year, $20 million the second, $30 million the third, and so forth until $50 million a year is transferred, which would continue in perpetuity. Over 11 years, such transfers would take $450 million from highway projects, ultimately totaling some $500 million. This measure flies in the face of some lawmakers who are fighting to transfer that slice of current transportation funds to water projects.

Rep. Johnny Anderson (R-Taylorsville), the bill's sponsor, said if the legislature chooses to save the money instead of spend it over several years, it could then afford large transportation projects without the need to borrow for them.

In the Senate, Stuart Adams (R-Layton) persuaded the chamber to pass SB80 to procure an even bigger slice of transportation money for water projects, possibly including the controversial Lake Powell pipeline or dams to develop water from the Bear River.

Anderson told the House that neither the state nor transportation could afford for both proposals to proceed, unless “some sort of compromise” is worked out to split the funds.

Gov. Gary Herbert had also proposed to transfer about the same amount of money away from transportation and use it for education, an idea legislators killed quick.

The Utah Department of Transportation has said no currently programmed projects would be delayed by either the governor’s proposal or Anderson’s, but that Adams’ larger transfers could cause some extra delays on projects such as completing the Mountain View Corridor in Salt Lake County.

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