Unwilling to even consider a gas tax hike, Gov. Doug Ducey is now counting on the Trump administration to help Arizona deal with its road-construction needs.
Or at least a small percentage of them.
The governor has submitted a wish list of more than $500 million worth of projects to the White House that he hopes will be included in the president’s grand plans for major infrastructure improvements.
Most of them involve upgrades to existing roads, with improvement of Interstate 10, largely in the Phoenix area, at the top of the list. And there’s also a request for $135 million to improve SR 189, the three-mile stretch of road that connects I-19 with the international border.
But the governor’s bid for money from Washington does not end with pavement.
He also hopes the federal government will upgrade the aging water system in Jerome which he told the White House in his request “is in serious disrepair, causing outages during peak demand in the summer.” There’s no price tag attached to that one.
But he has figured it will take from $2 million to $3 million to help the city of Williams drill a backup well.
And he wants $38.5 million to test for — and fix if necessary — lead in water that children are drinking at perhaps a quarter of the state’s schools which have old pipes and another $8.4 million to keep children at 26 schools from inhaling mercury vapor from rubber flooring.
Ducey’s request for federal road funds comes after a legislative panel issued a report putting the state’s immediate unmet road-funding needs at about $20 billion.
Working with that, several lawmakers have crafted ways to help raise those dollars. That includes a plan by Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, to finally hike the state’s 18-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax which has remained unchanged since 1992. Ducey dismissed that out of hand.
“I’m opposed to raising taxes,” he said Thursday, even while conceding that the state does have unfunded transportation needs.
“I’m not opposed to investing in roads and bridges,” the governor said. And as proof he cited the $86 million that was added in this year’s budget to the Highway User Revenue Fund, the account which finances such improvements.
Only thing is, that was a one-time cash infusion.
The governor’s budget for the coming fiscal year takes back those dollars. Ducey said he’s doing what he can with the dollars that are available.
“This year we put money into schools and to teachers and into education,” he said.
“The state has a lot of needs,” the governor continued. “We’re going to focus in a slowly growing economy on improving the state and the quality of life in the state.
But Ducey, newly back from the National Governor’s Association, thinks Arizona can get money from elsewhere.
“One of the most promising things I heard back in Washington, D.C., was this idea of partnership with the states and with governors on the president’s infrastructure plan,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of big numbers being thrown around.”
Trump is reportedly weighing projects totaling $137 billion.
“We have needs in Arizona at both the state, local and federal level,” Ducey said. “And I think there’s opportunity for further discussion.”
But the governor rebuffed the suggestion that Arizona was depending on the Trump administration to solve the road-construction and infrastructure needs that the state is not financing.
“Those are our dollars that are back in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
“We have an administration that thinks that they’re better spent at the state level and that state’s should be able to prioritize their projects,” Ducey continued. “So what we’re trying to get Washington to do is to get out of the way and to push our dollars back.”
The governor conceded, though, that it’s a long way between putting in a wish list and getting federal dollars back.
“That may be a bridge too far immediately,” he said. “But it will take a partnership.”
For the moment, the idea of raising the state gas tax is dead.
Campbell got the measure through the House Transportation Committee which he chairs, on a 7-1 vote. But it got squashed when Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, refused to give it a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee, through which all tax bills must pass.
But that hasn’t stopped other lawmakers from looking for ways to finance roads.
Last month the Senate voted to give county officials the power to ask their local voters whether to impose their own dime-a-gallon gas hike for up to 20 years. Revenues would be earmarked for road projects.
The future of that, however, remains unclear.
First, SB 1147, like the now-dead Campbell proposal, would need to pass through the House Ways and Means Committee. Ugenti-Rita did not immediately return calls on whether she is willing to give the measure a hearing.
And even if it survives that process, it would have to go to Ducey, who could veto it. Press aide Daniel Scarpinato was noncommittal.
“We’d have to see the specific legislation,” he said. “But he’s generally opposed to efforts that would result in higher taxes.”
Projects on list Ducey sent to White House:
– Increase capacity and make safety improvements on I-10, particularly in Phoenix area. Cost $160 million to $250 million.
– Widen two-lane stretch of US 93 between Phoenix and Las Vegas to four lanes. $35 million.
– Expand stretch of SR 260 east of Star Valley to four lanes. $45 million.
– Repair bridges on stretch of I-15 that passes through northwest Arizona. $30 million.
– Fix problems at 26 schools where rubber flooring is giving off toxic mercury. $8.4 million.
– Test and remedy problem at estimated 25 percent of schools which have failed lead water testing. $38.5 million.
– Replace aging air conditioning units at schools. $17.5 million.
– Repair pipe carrying domestic sewage from Nogales, Son. and Nogales, Az. $30 million to $40 million.
– Cap more than 2,000 open wells. $1.2 million to $3.6 million.
– Dig new backup well for Williams. $2 million to $3 million.
– Upgrade water system in Jerome. Unknown.
– Improve SR 189 between I-19 and international border. $135 million.
— Source: Governor’s Office.