Fixing the state’s growing transportation woes will most likely depend on how much Arizona taxpayers are willing to pay.
Gov. Janet Napolitano said Tuesday her plan to borrow millions this year to speed up state highway and road construction would not be enough to solve Arizona’s longterm needs.
She said voters should decide whether to increase taxes to pay for the kinds of transportation projects that would help the state keep pace with population growth and the traffic it creates.
Napolitano, a Democrat, met with Republican lawmakers on Tuesday to discuss transportation issues amid concerns over road construction.
Many Republicans are hesitant to support any measure that would increase the state’s debt or raise taxes.
“Ultimately the voters of this state have to make the final decision about what they want and how much time they’re willing to spend in traffic versus doing some other things,” Napolitano said.
How to pay for the road and highway construction needed to keep pace with the state’s rapid growth — which is the fastest in the nation — has been among the top issues facing state lawmakers this year.
In some areas, such as the rapidly growing town of Queen Creek, community leaders are warning that severe traffic jams will choke economic development and population growth.
Napolitano earlier this year proposed refinancing the state’s transportation bonds by stretching the payback period to 30 years instead of 20. She said that would free up roughly $400 million to spur new road construction.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, used the meeting with the governor to raise concerns about her plan. He thinks the state should not be looking to add more debt, which ends up costing taxpayers more in the long run.
Biggs, who heads the House Transportation Committee, disagrees with the governor over how to finance road construction, but the two could be on the same page when it comes to long-term solutions.
Biggs has been working with a small group of state leaders who want to take a proposed tax increase for road construction to the ballot in 2008.
Marty Schultz, vice president of Pinnacle West Capitol Corp., said the state will need $20 billion to $40 billion to keep up with the expected population and economic growth projected over the next two decades. Schultz said he wasn’t sure which taxes voters would be asked to increase. Raising sales and gasoline taxes were among the options, he said.
“We can’t afford to bury our heads in sand and not make the investments we need,” Schultz said. “My money would be on the voters who are sitting in traffic every day to pass this.”
During the nearly 40-minute meeting with Republicans, Napolitano also fielded other questions that ranged from immigration to the war in Iraq.
At one point, the governor said she opposed withdrawing troops from Iraq. Napolitano, who returned Sunday from a tour of the Middle East, said the current troop increase needs time to work.
“I think, in my own view, we got into this war without thinking about everything we should have,” she said. “We should not exit this war without thinking about everything we should.”
The statement surprised some Republicans who expected Napolitano to join congressional Democrats in calling for a troop withdrawal. “I did find it interesting on Iraq, having been there, that she really was more in line with President Bush in terms of saying we have a valid mission there,” said Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa.