Gov Pillen Testifies For Highway Bonding Bill

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      Nebraska Gov Jim Pillen was among those testifying Wednesday before the Unicameral’s Revenue Committee in favor of a bill allowing the state to issue bonds for highway construction backed by the state sales tax.

     It extends from 2033 to 2042 the current program dedicating a quarter-cent of the sales tax to roads.

The bill has limits of $450-million dollars in bonds and $35-million a year in interest costs with 75% of the money earmarked for the state’s expressway system.

     The state promised in the 1980s to build 600 miles of 4-lane highways linking all major cities to the Interstate system, but more than 30-years later only about 70% of those miles are done. The Heartland Expressway is among those still unfinished.

    Pillen pointed to the economic progress that resulted by President Dwight Eisenhower started the Interstate Highway system in the 1950s and said Nebraska “has really dropped the ball” on the expressway system.

      Pillen said when he and his wife moved back to Columbus in 1983 after he completed veterinary school in Kansas, work began on an expressway on the east end of Columbus that still hasn’t reached Fremont. Pillen said if the project had been bonded, it would have been done in 5 years and not 40.

      New Nebraska Dept of Transportation Director Vicki Kramer told the committee bonding would actually save the state money. She estimated the interest rate on bonds would be about 6% while highway construction costs jumped 20% in the past year and have risen nearly 10% a year for the past decade.

     Pillen’s endorsement of bonding for roads is a big change from his predecessor, Pete Ricketts, who opposed bonding and favored a pay-as-you-go approach.