Lawmakers seek funds for road projects in their districts

“It’s supposed to be what we do: fill potholes, build roads,” Sen. Sonny Borrelli said.

By Howard Fischer |Capitol Media Services  

Republican legislative leaders are trying to line up the votes for what could be a $15 billion budget, including about $1 billion in earmarks for specific road projects.

But Senate President Karen Fann said they should not be called “pork.”

“I don’t look at it as pork because it’s exactly what taxpayer dollars are supposed to go for is road infrastructure,” the Prescott Republican said. And with some of the $5 billion surplus not expected to repeat itself, Fann called this “a great opportunity” to complete some of the projects.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, the majority whip, also rejected the idea that putting dollars into the state budget for specific road design and construction projects fits that definition.

“Infrastructure’s not pork,” he said.

“It’s supposed to be what we do: fill potholes, build roads,” Borelli continued. And he said it creates jobs.

But what’s also true is that what’s been put into the budget by GOP lawmakers are projects that the state Transportation Board have not be included in what the agency considers the top priorities for the state.

The board finances its projects with gasoline and diesel taxes and vehicle registration fees, a scheme designed to link road projects with fees paid by users. Instead, each of the projects listed in the budget would be funded largely by a combination of sales and income taxes paid by everyone.

House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, was more forthright about how each of them got added to the spending plan.

“They’re member priorities,” he said, items sought by individual lawmakers for inclusion in the budget. That includes Toma himself who put $9.5 million into the spending plan for a stretch of noise wall along Loop 101 in his district. He said that came at the request of residents of Arrowhead Lakes who “get a lot of noise from the 101.”

“My job is to represent my district and this is a district request,” he told Capitol Media Services.

But Toma resisted calling any of that pork.

“Infrastructure is important to everyone,” he said.

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