The Mitchell Daily Republic has coverage of the latest South Dakota Transportation Commission meeting:
Also ahead for the commission will be setting rules for a new program for local bridge funding created in the legislation, SB 1.
The bridge grants will be jointly funded, with $7 million coming from fees and taxes which local governments otherwise would receive, and with $8 million coming from state DOT revenues.
The state commission received from the Legislature the authority to make the bridge-grant decisions.
The Legislature set requirements that a county government seeking aid from the bridge-grant program would need to have a county highway plan in place and would need to be collecting a wheel tax on vehicles registered in the county.
Bergquist said he expects the first round of bridge-grant applications this fall for the commission's consideration.
State law currently allows the wheel tax to be up to $4 per wheel with a maximum of $16 per vehicle. Starting April 1, the Legislature increased those maximums to $5 per wheel and $60 per vehicle.
Counties retain wheel-tax revenue. But many counties don't charge a wheel tax, according to officials.
Bob Benson, of Winner, the commission's chairman and a former state senator, said he still feels that local governments should raise the most they can locally before asking for more from the state government.
Bergquist said the commission has authority to consider the availability of other funding mechanisms and the use of them by the applicant.
So both, the gas tax and the excise tax on vehicles go directly to the state, while license plate fees go to the counties. Of the total $85 million in tax increases, only $17 million is from the 20% increase in license plate fees. As reported, $7 million of those increased taxes on license plates are being redirected by SB 1 to the state Transportation Commission.
The report tells us that the real problem regarding road and bridge funding lies with that commission:
Bergquist also offered that $1 million more could be considered for the community access grants program that serves cities with populations under 5,000; and $1 million more could flow into the agri-business grants program that assists with rural projects.
All of those programs saw funding reduced in recent years by the commission, as the state Department of Transportation took austerity steps to put more money into maintaining the state highway system.
So it is the Transportation Commission who has been not properly funding roads and brides, while receiving hundreds of millions from Obama's stimulus. And now we have $75 million of the $85 million in new taxes going to the state, whose history shows they have their own priorities besides fixing rural roads and bridges.
And so much for local control. Instead we have what is called "local effort". I have an email form an legislator who voted in favor of SB 1 that says the purpose was to establish "local effort". That means tax the poor, send it to Pierre, and let the special interests fight over how much their share will be. And they couldn't get the money fast enough, so they declared an emergency so that the tax increases happens April 1. They even tried to get sooner.