Marc Basnight, the state Senate leader, wants to backtrack on the General Assembly’s pledge to phase out an unpopular transfer that takes $172 million each year from the state Highway Trust Fund and moves it to the General Fund, which pays for non-transportation needs.
The General Assembly agreed in 2008 to start phasing out the yearly transfer of $172 million in transportation tax revenues from the Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund. Instead, legislators said, some of that money should be diverted each year to the N.C. Turnpike Authority.
The $172 million figure was reduced to $147 million a year starting this year. It was scheduled to be cut further to $113 million in fiscal year 2010, and to $99 million in 2011.
Mark Johnson of the McClatchy capital bureau reports that Basnight said today he did not see how the General Assembly could stick with its plan to reduce the transfer further in 2010.
“That would be difficult to make happen,” Basnight said. “To take money from the General Fund in reality is like taking money from education and the creation of jobs.”
But those planned turnpike projects would create a lot of jobs, too. Basnight is talking about delaying the start in 2010 of a yearly $39 million that would be leveraged to start construction on two projects worth $1.4 billion.
Starting this year, the Turnpike Authority is getting $25 million a year to cover a projected gap between project costs and toll collections for North Carolina’s first modern toll road, the $967 million, 18-mile Triangle Expressway in western Wake County and Research Triangle Park.
(The Wall Street meltdown has delayed the start of construction on TriEx, because the turnpike agency has been unable to borrow the money it needs to build and operate it. The agency will borrow the entire cost of construction and operation up front, then repay the loan with toll collections and the state's gap funding.)
David Joyner, director of the turnpike authority, says his agency still hopes to start work on TriEx this year and is on schedule in the spring of 2010 to start the next two toll roads: the $756 million, 21-mile Monroe Connector / Bypass in Union County, and the $659 million, 7-mile Mid-Currituck Bridge across Currituck Sound.
To keep that schedule, the agency is counting on the legislature’s promise of an additional $39 million per year in gap funding for the two toll roads, beginning with fiscal year 2009-2010.
If the legislature withholds that $39 million, Joyner says, the state won’t be able to start building the $1.4 billion toll roads in 2010.
(Starting in 2011, an additional $35 million a year is to be diverted from the transfer to pay gap funding for the $911 million Garden Parkway, 22 miles in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties.)