By Nancy Hicks
Lincoln Journal Star
LINCOLN Nebraska's fuel tax will creep up, 0.1 cents
per gallon to help pay for the city buses and rural handivan
programs under a measure that received second-round approval
The average Nebraska driver, on the road for about 12,000
miles a year, will pay an extra 60 cents a year, according
to Steve Maraman, controller for the Department of Roads.
The measure, part of the budget package, is a new way to
fund the state's share of public transportation. It is also
part of Omaha Sen. Lowen Kruse's plan (LB1144) to establish
a process for assessing public transportation needs.
Currently the $1.5 million spent on public transportation
- small subsidies for Lincoln and Omaha bus services and grants
to the 61 rural handivan programs - comes from three areas:
income taxes, sales taxes and the fuel tax.
Under the Kruse proposal, all the state funding for public
transportation will come from the variable fuel tax. The current
$1.5 million budget would require an increase of that tax
of about 0.1 cents.
The new funding process will allow the Legislature to make
decisions on public transportation funding separately from
the massive road construction budget, according to Kruse.
Future funding likely will be based on a study of public
transportation that will establish citizen needs across the
state and allow the Lincoln and Omaha bus systems to talk
about their future.
SRI Consulting Group Inc. of Minneapolis will conduct the
yearlong study that will include several public meetings and
random telephone surveys of 12,000 Nebraskans, according to
Ellis Tompkins, rail and public transportation engineer for
the Roads Department.
"We are heading into problems with the public transit
system, and it's time to talk about the whole thing,"
Kruse said. The new planning process "could set policies
that will help the elderly and handicapped citizens for decades
to come," he said.
Though the road-building industry traditionally opposes any
changes in the fuel tax system, that lobby is not opposing
the measure. Philosophically, the proposal makes sense because
at the federal level the fuel tax is tied to public transit
funding, said Terry King, executive director of the Nebraska
Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America.
In addition, the new system is structured so that it doesn't
use any money earmarked for road construction or maintenance.
The state's fuel tax is split, with a 12.5-cents-per-gallon
fixed tax and a 12.3-cents-per-gallon variable tax. The fixed
tax remains the same year after year, unless changed by state
law. The variable tax fluctuates and is used to make sure
the Roads Department collects enough money for the road-building
budget set by the Legislature.