(The Center Square)— A bill that would set a temporary floor on a gasoline tax, increase financial safeguards at the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), and balance the agency's budget is on its way to Gov Roy Cooper's desk.
The House gave House Bill 77 the final nod with a 99-17 vote Wednesday. It was unanimously approved by the Senate last week.
A May state audit revealed the department went $742 million over its $5.9 billion spending limit for fiscal year 2019, and its 14 highway divisions were short on cash and borrowed against the next year's budget. Most of the overspending was on repairs, operations and maintenance, the state audit found.
If Cooper signs the bill, the secretary of transportation would have to report to the governor disaster costs that could max out the emergency reserve. The legislation calls on Cooper to recommend a special session to appropriate additional disaster funds.
HB 77 adds another layer of taxpayer support for NCDOT.
The measure would stop the motor fuel tax rate from falling below the current rate of 36.1 cents per gallon for the next two years. The move would increase revenue by $20.2 million in the next fiscal year and $33.4 million in fiscal year 2021-22, the fiscal research office predicted, but with uncertainty, given the economic climate.
It also reshuffles the way the state's motor fuel tax revenue is allocated.
Under current law, half-a-cent per gallon of the revenue from the gas tax is designated to the Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund and the Water and Air Quality Account. Then, 71 percent of the remainder goes to the Highway Fund, and 29 percent is allotted to the Highway Trust Fund.
HB 77 would allocate 80 percent of the remaining share to Highway Fund in 2021 and 79 percent in 2022. In the following fiscal years, 2022-2023 and beyond, the Highway Fund found would receive 74 percent.
To increase oversight, Cooper and the Legislature would appoint the members of a revamped version of the State Board of Transportation.
The 20 board members would be required to have experience in transportation or financing.
The legislation is part of a series of attempts by the General Assembly to bail out NCDOT.
In November, after an audit from an independent firm, lawmakers routed an additional $220 million to the department to resume projects that stalled because it failed to maintain its cash balance limit between $282 million and $1 billion.