Lawmakers Endorse Rules for How to Pay for Infrastructure
A legislative committee endorsed a bill to set rules for determining how much money the state can afford to spend on building construction and maintenance.
Republican Rep. Eric Moore's proposal includes rules for borrowing based on state revenue and existing debt. The bill was heard Thursday and passed unanimously in the House Appropriations Committee. It now goes to the full House, where it must be passed before the March 2 transmittal deadline.
Moore said he drafted his bill in consultation with lawmakers from both parties and both houses along with the governor's budget office and with input from bond rating agencies. He said having a framework could make it cost less to borrow money.
No one spoke against the bill.
"As always, we look forward to working with the legislature on moving infrastructure projects forward," Budget Director Tom Livers said in a statement. "We are interested to see how this bill plays out in the context of Republican-majority proposals and in ensuring we are addressing needs today, not kicking the can down the road two more years."
Over the past several legislative sessions, lawmakers have been unable to get the two-thirds majority vote needed to authorize borrowing money for major building projects. Lawmakers in 2017 approved $173 million for water, sewer, road and bridge projects.
Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso said in an interview he thinks the bill has support from both Democrats and Republicans because lawmakers heard from their constituents about past failures to support construction work that helps create jobs.
The Legislature needs to look at infrastructure spending more in terms of an investment rather than debt, he said, adding that people also realize that delaying projects leads to higher costs.
Limiting infrastructure spending to a small percentage of general fund revenues "sort of comforts those who think of it as debt," Sesso said.
The rules also would limit money for building construction if the state employee pension plan was not adequately funded.
Republican Rep. Nancy Ballance, co-chair of the House Appropriations Committee, also supports the proposal as a way to separate arguments over what to fund from arguments over how to pay for it.
"I think in general people see it as a responsible way to set fiscal policy for the state," she said.