Can a new gas tax be used to make the Port of Mobile accessible to larger ships?
Governor Kay Ivey unveiled the gas tax plan today, and it is a little more complicated than we thought.
The plan, known as Rebuild Alabama Infrastructure Plan, proposes a 10-cent increase on gas tax that is phased in over the next three years.
Excerpt from the Ivey news release, as follows:
The Rebuild Alabama plan proposes a 10-cent increase in Alabama’s fuel tax with an index designed to coincide with the rising costs of building roads. The state currently imposes a flat excise tax of 18 cents-per-gallon on gas and 19 cents-per-gallon on diesel, without adjusting for inflation and other construction and maintenance costs.
This combined fuel tax revenue generates 80 percent of Alabama’s transportation funding. The plan’s 10-cent increase will be phased in over the next three years.
New revenue generated by the increase will be dispersed between state, county, and municipal governments in Alabama. These funds are to be used for transportation infrastructure improvement, preservation and maintenance projects. A separate portion of the revenues will go to pay a bond to be issued to finance improvements to the ship channel providing access to the facilities of the Alabama State Docks.
But one issue outside of the amount of the increase, and who gets what, is whether or not some of the money will be used to make the Port of Mobile accessible to larger ships. A plan to dredge to assist the Port of Mobile continues to be discussed as part of the larger gas tax plan.
Most proponents of the gas tax seem to be in favor of using the money this way, including Mayor Tommy Battle in Huntsville. Battle, whose North Alabama city is a manufacturing superstar believes helping the Port of Mobile “also helps us sell goods at a lower price throughout the world. That helps everybody.”
But can the state use these resources that way?
The Alabama Constitution seems to say maybe not.
Excerpt from the Alabama Constitution, as follows:
No moneys derived from any fees, excises, or license taxes, levied by the state, relating to registration, operation, or use of vehicles upon the public highways except a vehicle-use tax imposed in lieu of a sales tax, and no moneys derived from any fee, excises, or license taxes, levied by the state, relating to fuels used for propelling such vehicles except pump taxes, shall be expended for other than cost of administering such laws, statutory refunds and adjustments allowed therein, cost of construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of public highways and bridges, costs of highway rights-of-way, payment of highway obligations, the cost of traffic regulation, and the expense of enforcing state traffic and motor vehicle laws.
The bigger issue is whether or not we should be debating this type of project while talking about how our roads and bridges are falling apart. If we need a gas tax increase to deal with crumbling infrastructure, we should deal with that and allocate the money for dredging for the Port of Mobile through the normal legislative process.