Two point nine billion dollars.
That’s how much money Senator Deb Fischer wants to siphon out of Nebraska’s general fund over the next twenty years to earmark for highway construction and maintenance. It’s the biggest new government spending spree to ever come down the pike, so to speak, in Nebraska.
Highway construction and maintenance are good things, especially considering Nebraska’s position smack dab in the middle of the country which makes us a 500-mile long concrete pipeline for Fed Ex, U-Haul, Wal-Mart and a variety of illicit drug drovers. Nebraska collects a lot of money from our highway users through gasoline taxes and user fees. All of that money is reserved and used exclusively to build and maintain our state and federal highways, to the tune of almost $700 million per year.
Not enough, says Senator Fischer.
Nebraska’s highways are rated among the top in the nation for safety. Over seventy-five percent of our highway miles are rated as very good or good for pavement condition. Ninety-one percent of our highways are rated very good or good for ride quality.
Not good enough, says Senator Fischer. And maybe she’s right. We can always do better.
Our foster care system is a shambles, HHS plans to cut Medicaid payments to health providers, our public schools are dropping classes and after-school programs, and our elderly parents are cutting their medications in half with scissors to make them go further. So what does Senator Fischer want to do about all of this grief?
According to Senator Fischer, her plan to suck millions of dollars out of general funds every year and earmark them for her pet pavement project is “what I believe to be a priority of government.”
Actually, technically, legally, the priorities of the legislature are written in the Nebraska constitution. They are: to provide for a free public education for people age 5 to 21; provide for the rights and duties of persons; and govern charitable, mental, reformatory and penal institutions. I don’t see anything in there about roads.
Speaking of roads, Senator Jeremy Nordquist had this to say about them yesterday, “We are fifth in the nation in the quality of our road conditions. Show me where we are fifth in schools or fifth in health and human services. You can’t, because we’re not.”
Senator Fischer says this is not a competition between “concrete and children.” Well, yes, it is. It never was before, because state and federal highways have always been paid for by user fees, while children’s services have always been paid for by general funds. If the Lege passes this bill and concrete trucks start rolling up to the general fund trough, they’ll be pretty big competition for preschoolers.
The state senators conducted a study on transportation in 2009 and came up with 31 different ways to increase highway funding. None of those 31 ways involved tapping into general funds. Senator Fischer was in on that study. She must have been asleep at the wheel.
Senator Fischer has really dug her high heels in on this bill. I’m not sure why, but Frankly, Senator Fischer’s dad was state roads director in the late 1980’s so maybe Fischer is doing a Bushwhack. Daddy couldn’t finish the job so she’s gonna finish it for him, come heck or highway robbery of the general fund.
“Our only constitutional mandate is to support K-12 schools,” Senator Tanya Cook noted on the floor of the Lege yesterday. “We have students, and we have roads.”
Take your pick.
(A Fahrkwhar Thanks to Rascall Flatts, Miranda Lambert and the Louvin Brothers for the title songs of today’s blog.)