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Posted at 3:04 p.m. on July 10, 2014
For Utah State Sen. Curt Bramble, a Republican, paying for new highways with increased taxes should be a straightforward matter of Congress making a decision and then explaining it to voters.
Bramble argued Thursday that if a lawmakers show some courage and make a decision to raise revenue, the voters will come around.
The Utah Republican was one of several members of the National Conference of State Legislatures at the Capitol Thursday to lobby their state’s congressional delegations on a long-term fix for the Highway Trust Fund.
If raising new revenue is hard, is it harder than passing an immigration overhaul?
Bramble used the analogy of the package of immigration laws that Utah passed in 2011, which included a guest worker provision. He said even though there was opposition at the start, voters did ultimately accept the legislature’s decision.
He pointed to new poll in the Salt Lake Tribune that showed that eight of every 10 Utah voters say it’s important for Congress to enact immigration overhaul this year, and three out of four favor creating a legal status for illegal immigrants as part of it, according to a new survey.
The poll was sponsored by business groups.
On highway funding, Bramble said, “Congress made a commitment to the states and they need to fulfill that commitment that they made. Long term, if they need to change that commitment down that road, that’s one thing, but there’s a commitment.… and we’re here as the collective voice of the states asking Congress to live up to what they committed to.”
He added that the public in Utah “is no different from the public in any other state. They are very frustrated by inaction in Congress, the lack of performance in doing the job. I think they are looking to the state legislature for leadership in the vacuum created by the Congress that isn’t acting.”
Utah did move ahead on its own in 2008 to expand Interstate 15 from Salt Lake City to Provo, a $2 billion project.
“Gridlock imposes a huge cost on the citizens; it’s a hidden tax. We looked at this in 2007 and 2008 when Jon Huntsman Jr. was the governor, and our top priority in transportation was to rebuild and increase the capacity of Interstate 15,” he said.
“We knew that we couldn’t rely on the federal government, so that project was not only the largest capital public works project in the state’s history, it was done literally with no federal funding.”
The state issued bonds and raised the vehicle registration fee by $20 as funding sources for the project, along with some general state revenues and matching funds from Utah County.