Bonding Bill Would Finish Nebraska Expressways Faster, Supporters Say

1 month ago The Reader

This story was originally published in the Nebraska Examiner.

LINCOLN — A highway funding bill with Gov. Jim Pillen’s backing could help Nebraska finish a four-lane expressway system that the state has spent four decades building.

PillenGov. Jim Pillen testifies Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, at the State Capitol. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

But the proposal to borrow money by issuing bonds to fund highway and major road construction would end Nebraska’s decades-old, pay-as-you-go approach to major road construction. 

Legislative Bill 706 would speed up construction projects by letting the Nebraska Department of Transportation issue up to $450 million in bonds over 19 years. It proposes to pay them off using a portion of sales taxes already being collected.

The bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Mike Moser of Norfolk, said the measure aims to help manufacturers, agricultural producers and communities situated farther from Interstate 80.

During Wednesday’s public hearing for LB 706, Moser described the expressway system as a “critical” link between western, central and eastern Nebraska.

The expressway system, codified into law in 1988, has struggled for funding and is now slated to be completed by 2035. Bonding could cut years off the wait, Moser said.

“It’s an economic development thing for us, being able to get more quickly to Lincoln or to Omaha or to the Interstate system,” he told the Revenue Committee.

‘Fiscally responsible’ approach 

Pillen, who testified that Nebraska needs to be able to issue bonds for highways to compete, said the state “dropped the ball” by opposing proposals to issue bonds for highway construction.

State Sen. Mike MoserState Sen. Mike Moser
(Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Projects that could have been done in five years took 50, he said. And the work cost Nebraska taxpayers millions of dollars more than they would have because of inflation.

Pillen argued that bonding is a “fiscally responsible” approach when construction inflation runs 10% a year in a good year and is running 20% today.

“Just think of the economic activity that’s been lost waiting for our state to grow,” the governor said. “Our timelines just haven’t cut it.”

Moser’s bill is built off a 2021 bill by Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont.

The largest expressway sections yet to be built would connect Fremont, Norfolk and Columbus — the governor’s hometown — to the Interstate and Omaha, expressway advocates said.

About a third of the expressway system still needs to be finished, including a section of U.S. 75 between Nebraska City and Omaha that is being widened.

Walz said she was “excited to see the bonding proposal.” She said it would be a “great tool” to finish the expressways and build future projects.

“We should always err on the side of caution,” she said of bonding. “It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution, but it’s a great step.”

The Walz bill stalled two years ago, in part, because then-Gov. Pete Ricketts opposed bonding for roads.

Former governors resisted bonding

None of Nebraska’s last five governors — four Republicans and one Democrat — supported the state using bonding for building highways while in office.

Ricketts and former Gov. Kay Orr, two of Pillen’s top Republican supporters in the 2022 governor’s race, had no immediate comment Wednesday on LB 706.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen Nebraska Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen speaks after receiving a public endorsement from former Nebraska Gov. Kay Orr, left, and then-Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts. (Rebecca S. Gratz for Nebraska Examiner)

Both have argued before that they preferred the state not to go into debt to build highways, as did former Govs. Dave Heineman, Mike Johanns and Ben Nelson.

Nelson on Wednesday said he still would rather see Nebraska pay as it goes, unless there is a compelling argument for new economic development tied to a road.

“Borrowing is for growth, for new streets and roads for growth,” Nelson said. “You borrow to buy a house, but not for monthly utilities.”

Heineman, reached Wednesday, said that while he has opposed bonding for roads in the past, he understands why Pillen was taking another look at doing so.

“I think it’s worth a look,” he said, citing the importance rural Nebraskans place on four-lane access. “Nebraskans will want them to take it slow.” 

Expressway advocates from Gering to Nebraska City have complained that previous governors did not prioritize spending on the expressway system.

Several pointed to now-U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., who faced opposition as a state lawmaker when she tried to earmark part of the state sales tax revenue for the expressways. 

They say investors are clamoring for safe places to put money and said passage of a federal infrastructure bill means more money to build roads and bridges.  

Good infrastructure called vital

Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning, who helped cities and counties to advocate for completion of the four-lane expressway system for years, applauded LB 706.

Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning speaks during the ribbon cutting for the largest solar power production facility in Nebraska. (City of Norfolk/submitted photo)

He called the state’s previous approach “penny wise and pound foolish.” In 1988, he said, completion of the system was expected to cost $200 million.

Today, the same project would cost more than $2 billion, he said. The longer you wait, he said, the more expensive it gets.

“I’ve seen through business recruitment that good infrastructure access is (vital),” he said. “If you don’t have it, you’re going to get passed by.”

Road builders have said the expressways took so long because the state dedicated little funding beyond the gas tax, which is politically difficult to increase.

LB 706 would cap how much the state could pay for the bonds in a given year, as well, limiting annual debt service on such bonds to no more than $30 million a year.

The bill also would extend the Nebraska law dedicating 1/4 of 1% of state sales tax revenue to the expressway system, priority projects and maintenance.

That sales tax earmark, currently scheduled to sunset in 2033, would be extended to 2042, which advocates said would provide the state with enough revenue to pay off the new bonds.

No new bonds would be issued after June 2029.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: [email protected] Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Continue reading...

Read On "The Reader"
More News On "The Reader"
28 days ago - Alameda County landlords owed thousands in rent, call for an end to eviction moratorium 28 days ago - Monday Feb. 27 COVID-19 update: 4 deaths in Douglas County 28 days ago - State basketball preview: 6A, 5A tournaments return to Weber State’s Dee Events Center this week 28 days ago - One Wealth Advisors LLC invests in Enovix Co. (NASDAQ:ENVX) 28 days ago - Uncommon length makes Pleasant Valley’s 2-3 a no-scoring zone 28 days ago - Study: Back-to-back hurricanes likely to come more often 28 days ago - What’s Happening Vegas? – March 2023 28 days ago - Osceola County community events calendar for 03/01/2023 28 days ago - North Adams, East Clinton, Unioto still alive 28 days ago - North Korea holds rare meeting on farming amid food shortage 28 days ago - 'Dilbert,' Scott Adams lose distributor over racist remarks 28 days ago - Soap or phone call? Colo. lawmakers want to make prison phone calls free 28 days ago - EXPLAINER: Windstorm was likely a derecho. What is that? 28 days ago - What's Happening in Las Vegas for this Year's March Madness 28 days ago - Outsmarting humans just one step for AI video game players 28 days ago - 'Cocaine Bear' gets high with $23.1M, 'Ant-Man' sinks fast 28 days ago - 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' dominates at SAG Awards 28 days ago - Digital Transformation: The Revolutionary Impact of Technology in Africa 28 days ago - ShotSpotter (NASDAQ:SSTI) Price Target Increased to $44.00 by Analysts at Lake Street Capital 28 days ago - Season 3 of Outer Banks disappoints critics; watch only if you were a die-hard fan of earlier seasons, they suggest 29 days ago - Board Game and Card Game Market Size in 2023 with [ STATISTICS FIGURES] Future Development Status and Forecast up to 2029 29 days ago - Tabletop Gaming Market Size in 2023 NEW TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT and Latest Innovation in Analytics Sector till 2029 29 days ago - Celona Offers Most Comprehensive Private 5G Solutions for U.S. and Foreign Markets 29 days ago - ShotSpotter, Inc. (NASDAQ:SSTI) to Post Q1 2023 Earnings of ($0.03) Per Share, Northland Capmk Forecasts 29 days ago - Asian shares track Wall Street decline on hot economic data 29 days ago - Final Nebraska high school swimming and diving season leaders 29 days ago - Girls BB: Saluting Section Champions 29 days ago - Tens of thousands protest Mexico electoral reforms 29 days ago - Third finals appearance the charm for Hortonville's Skebba; Stoffel makes history for Appleton North 29 days ago - Medical Blades Market Business Opportunities, Top Players and Forecast 2030 29 days ago - Central College Dutch Sports Update – 2/26/2023 29 days ago - Buhro takes individual crown as Oak Harbor earns sectional championship 1 month ago - Nebraska conservatives set sights on education takeover – Associated Press 1 month ago - Back-to-back: Minico successfully defends 4A state wrestling championship 1 month ago - Here are Saturday's high school sports results 1 month ago - Farewell, Fontana: NASCAR's last weekend at a racing gem 1 month ago - Kansas Democrats pick Repass as their new chair despite campaign baggage 1 month ago - Tesla’s Global Engineering HQ in Palo Alto — Opening Party Highlights (Pics, Videos, Quotes) 1 month ago - San Ann'as Pizza and Mexican celebrating 45th anniversary 1 month ago - L.A. on the Record: The Senate takes one more look at Garcetti 1 month ago - Dodge County real estate transfers 1 month ago - How UNL instructors are tackling the emergence of ChatGPT and other AI in higher education 1 month ago - Some Democratic-led states seek to bolster voter protections 1 month ago - Casey Vaughan: Only rain should go down a storm drain 1 month ago - Nebraska conservatives set sights on education takeover 1 month ago - West Michigan Conference basketball: Girls and boys roundup from Feb. 24, 2023 – CatchMark Sports 1 month ago - Jeff Yost: Look Upstream 1 month ago - Brokers Set Expectations for ShotSpotter, Inc.'s Q4 2023 Earnings (NASDAQ:SSTI) 1 month ago - Building affordable homes in Fremont 1 month ago - Local chef to open farm-to-table eatery in Fremont 1 month ago - Jeanna Wilcoxen Murder: Where Is Jeremiah Connelly Now? 1 month ago - More than 70 soldiers killed in Burkina Faso, extremists say 1 month ago - Clyde Council to consider citizens raising chickens in town 1 month ago - Wilhelm: More on Jacksons, Willow Hill and efforts to share insight into African American history 1 month ago - STATE HIGH SCHOOL WRESTLING TOURNAMENTS: Crowded at the top ... Trojans third, but well within striking distance in 5A tournament 1 month ago - Bulldog wrestlers have solid day at state 1 month ago - High school boys basketball: 6A/5A second round recap 1 month ago - Head-To-Head Analysis: Amprius Technologies (NYSE:AMPX) & Novanta (NASDAQ:NOVT) 1 month ago - Here are Friday's high school sports results 1 month ago - It’s Official: California Will Be Tesla’s Engineering & AI Headquarters
free geoip