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DelDOT Sec. Cohan: almost "emergency need" for capital funds

Delaware Public Media

State lawmakers continue to extoll the importance of spending more on infrastructure projects, but have yet to present any concrete ideas on how to do that.

DelDOT Sec. Jennifer Cohan presented her capital plan before the Joint Bond Bill Committee Monday, noting a now $780 million backlog of safety and priority projects, saying "we almost have an emergency need at this point."

"It feels like Groundhog Day," said Joint Bond Bill Committee co-chair Sen. Dave Sokola (D-Newark).

“We can’t finish the session without a solution," said co-chair Rep. Quinn Johnson (D-Middletown), a sentiment echoed by several legislators.

Sokola agreed, noting that “something needs to be done sooner rather than later” pointing out that it’s a matter of safety and job creation, but it would also raise the quality of life of state residents.

Pennsylvania increased their whole sale gas tax in 2013, which Sokola says may cause obvious disparities along the border.

“Over the next four or five years if we don’t do anything, you’re going to see a lot of improvements just over the line and when people are comparing how favorable roads to a community look, that could have some negative impact on Delaware.”

But Johnson notes that there isn’t a consensus forming around a single idea.

“The conversation is a mix bag of ideas. I think it’s going to be a group of things, not just the one idea that the governor had last time.”

That idea was a ten-cent gas tax hike that would've raised $50 million annually, coupled with another $50 million in borrowing over the next five years. House Democratic leadership immediately lambasted the idea, saying it wouldn't move an inch.

"Before we look at the revenue side, we have to prove that we've tried to lower costs," said Sen. Colin Bonini (R-Dover South). Bonini says those efforts should focus on lowering the prevailing wage set for state contracts and possibly transferring DelDOT operating expenditures out of the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), which helps bankroll capital projects.

To help balance the General Fund budget in FY 2015 and 2016, Gov. Jack Markell (D) has proposed snagging $40 million in escheat money from the TTF. Lawmakers signed off on the proposal last year.

Other options being floated include a wholesale gas tax and a fee on oil being transported to Delaware.

Whatever the solution, there is agreement around a legislative requirement that any new revenue be solely used on infrastructure projects.

The full General Assembly reconvenes later this month.