Fixing our roads – owning our kuleana

Last week I introduced a tax proposal to repair county roads and bridges and expand public transportation and walking and biking facilities on Kauai. I know the first reaction of many will be, “What? More taxes? No way!”

Understood. Every day our families are reminded of the high cost of living when they pay their rent/mortgage or buy a half gallon of milk. But I hope readers will give me a chance to explain how my proposals will help to lower or moderate the cost of living in the long run if we step up to our responsibility now. Also, the proposal is not set in stone. Consider it an invitation to put our heads together to solve a problem that won’t go away by us ignoring it. I hope you will read on and join in the problem solving.

This article explains my plan to fix our roads. In my next article, I will explain my plan to expand our public bus system to make affordable transportation more available, create more space for cars and trucks on existing roads, and give our families a chance to save a lot of money.

Kauai drivers don’t need to be told that county roads need fixing, but in order to address the problem, we need to know what the bill is. Last year, the county’s roads division finally answered my request made several years ago and reported that the county has a $100 million backlog of road repaving. Assuming we want our roads in good condition, how will we pay this bill?

I asked the administration this question during last year’s budget hearings. They didn’t have an answer because prior to budget hearings last year, the administration proposed a vehicle weight tax increase to fund fixing our roads, but the County Council (with the exception of Councilmember KipuKai Kualii and myself) stopped on the bill on first reading, which means it didn’t even get to a public hearing. This year, the mayor is proposing that we use part of the half-percent excise tax, but an excise tax is extremely regressive and will impact our low- and moderate­-income families the most, instead of making those pay who use and damage the roads the most.

To get rid of the $100 million backlog in road repairs, we need $8.2 million per year for 10 years (the remaining $1.8 million will come from matching federal funds). To raise this money, I am proposing a 15­ cent increase to the fuel tax and a 1.38 cent increase per pound to both passenger vehicles and freight trucks. At the end of 10 years, assuming our catch­up is done, the 15 cents will sunset but the vehicle weight tax increase will remain to ensure that we maintain our roads in a timely way and don’t get behind again.

What will these increases mean to drivers? Impacts will vary based on specific circumstances, but assuming a car is filled up once a week, total fuel and vehicle weight taxes annually for a compact car would be about $120 per year or $10 per month. For a small pickup it would be $195 per year or $16 per month. For a blockbuster truck, it would be $246 per year or $21 per month. Consider that we are saving over $1.50 per gallon from gas prices two years ago, so this is the time to start reducing the backlog.

In the meantime, our cars and trucks take the damage. A national study showed that on Oahu, bad roads cost an average of $700 per vehicle in repairs. It’s not that bad on Kauai, but it could get that way if we don’t do something soon.

We are presently faced with the $100 million backlog because we refused to adopt a pay-­as­-you-­go system: We chose not to increase our fuel or vehicle weight taxes in the past. We now have a chance to take responsibility for making our roads work and creating a good future for ourselves and our children. If you have a better idea about how we can do that, please join the discussion at CouncilTestimony@kauai.gov​and/or come to the council meeting this Wednesday or a public hearing that will be set in the near future.

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JoAnn Yukimura is a member of the Kauai County Council.

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