By Rep. Darrio Melton
The 2016 legislative session is right around the corner, and the Republican Supermajority is already divided on the best approach to the budget blunder: increasing taxes or cutting services.
Last session, many legislators considered an increase in the gasoline tax as a way to shore up the general fund, knowing the state’s share of the gas tax goes exclusively to road and bridge maintenance.
While Alabama has a tremendous need for road and bridge improvements–nearly 25 percent of our current roads are considered to be in dangerous condition–and that gas tax revenue has been dropping in recent years due to more fuel-efficient vehicles, we must look at ways to solve these problems while also priming Alabama for a 21st century economy.
The truth is that a gas tax will hit low-income, rural families harder than those who live in metro areas. Selma residents routinely drive the 100-mile round-trip to Montgomery every day for work. An hour commute during the work-week isn’t unheard of in many parts of our state.
So while we consider increasing the gas tax, we should consider finding a way to build Alabama for the future, rather than pulling more money out of people’s pockets today to fund past projects that have fallen into disrepair. We’ll never get ahead if we’re constantly trying to play catch up, which is exactly what our budget blunder is all about.
Alabama is one of only a few states in the nation that offers no state support for public transportation, meaning there is no way to get from city to city, and that our municipalities are tasked with funding the metro transportation systems we do have in our larger cities.
If we were able to utilize some gas tax revenue to help develop a quality, statewide public transportation system, it would provide a low-cost method for people in rural areas to get to work, to the doctor, or to school in our bigger cities. It could connect areas like the Black Belt, which don’t even have an interstate system passing through, and allow economic development into these areas for more job opportunities and economic expansion in the areas we need it most. Not to mention, the decrease in daily traffic on our roads will cut down on the need for future repairs, allowing us to use our road and bridge money for timely maintenance instead of always being one step behind.
Most importantly, developing a public transportation system would create hundreds–if not thousands–of jobs for those tasked with building the transportation system, providing the materials, and designing, engineering, and maintaining the program.
Our opportunities here in Alabama are endless, and I strongly believe we can do big, important things when we set our mind to building a stronger future for this state. Most importantly, we can’t be afraid to be bold and break out of the way things have always been done to try new solutions to our ongoing problems.
Rep. Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.