When a bill unanimously passes the House and then unanimously passes the Senate, it should become law, right?
Well, not when it comes to I77. As we reported last week, Rep John Bradford ran an amendment to HB 1029 that would have created a reserve fund to pay for I77 contract cancellation costs. Surpluses from the Highway Trust Fund and Highway Fund would go toward provisioning a new reserve fund up to $300 million. (For reference, the credit balance of these two funds was over $200 million in 2017 alone.)
The amendment passed unanimously, 113-0.
However, the Senate concluded that highway funds can only be used for capital projects, and using the highway funds to pay cancellation costs is unconstitutional. (More on that in a moment.) So the Senate rejected Bradford’s amendment. Instead Sen Jeff Tarte ran an amendment that would create a reserve fund by diverting funding for road projects in Mecklenburg county for five years. Projects that are currently under contract, or subject to re-prioritization, or completely federally funded would be excluded.
In addition, the Senate reserve fund would be financed by diverting 75% of Powell Bill funds for the next five years for all municipalities in Mecklenburg and South Iredell counties. Powell Bill funds are an allocation each town receives for local street maintenance and improvements. Cornelius receives about $750,000 in Powell Bill funds annually, but under this amendment that amount would be cut to ~$180,000 for the next five years. If passed, the amendment would cost Cornelius nearly a million dollars in road funding.
You’ll pardon us if we’re not too enthused about the Senate amendment, seeing as how the entire cost of cancellation would be borne by the I77 corridor.
Unfortunately, the word is the rest of the legislature has no appetite for sharing this burden. If that’s the case, we wonder if the Outer Banks will be so provincial when it comes time to seek funds for storm damage repair, or western NC when it is stricken by floods and mudslides, and so on. Some large-scale disasters are man-made. All need to be fixed.
The Senate amendment passed unanimously 40-0.
Now, about that constitutional issue. Every year the state allocates $49 million to the Highway Trust Fund to service the debt on the Triangle Express Way and the Monroe Bypass (GS 136-176.b2). This is debt service, not capital expenditures. Isn’t using a reserve fund to pay off a toll road exactly what Rep Bradford proposed? Color us confused.
When two versions differ, the legislative procedure is to convene an ad hoc conference committee to hammer out the differences. The House has appointed conferees but as of this writing the Senate has not.
With time running out on the short session (they are hoping to adjourn by the end of the month), so, too, is the hope of a legislative fix.
Even when no legislator is against it.