News: CJ Exclusives

2017 state budget: Transportation

Property owners in the corridor for the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway convinced the N.C. Supreme Court to rule the Map Act unconstitutional.
Property owners in the corridor for the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway convinced the N.C. Supreme Court to rule the Map Act unconstitutional.

The House budget includes more than $3 billion in transportation funding each year of the biennium, in addition to the General Fund appropriations for other state operations.

In 2017-18 the House budgets $2.26 billion in transportation-related taxes and fees to the Highway Fund, which pays for maintenance and operations, and $920 million to the Highway Trust Fund for large-scale road construction projects. The Highway Fund receives $2.3 billion, and the Highway Trust Fund $1.1 billion in 2018-19.

One item included in the budget has no funds attached to it, but plenty of statewide importance.

In one sentence, the House repeals the Map Act — ruled last year by the state Supreme Court as an illegal taking of private property by the state Department of Transportation. The special budget provision further prohibits filing new corridor protection maps.

The Senate budget appropriates $2.19 billion to the Highway Fund in 2017-18, and $2.25 billion in 2018-19. It does not repeal the Map Act. Rather, it extends a moratorium on new corridor maps to July 1, 2018. Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget proposes $2.15 billion in 2017-18, and $2.18 billion in 2018-19. It is silent on the Map Act.

The Supreme Court ruled DOT effectively took property owners’ land through eminent domain by recording corridor protection maps, and imposing severe restrictions on what the property owners could do with their homes and land.

 

House Appropriations leaders treated the subject gingerly when directing Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, Transportation Appropriations chairman, to answer a question about it at a Thursday morning news conference.

“The issue could be enormous. We pretty much made that go away now. The Map Act is no more in the House budget,” Torbett said. The DOT has asked for an additional year to come back with a potential resolution.

Other DOT projects include:

  The House increases capital projects under the Strategic Transportation Investment fund by $139.7 million in 2017-18, and $180.5 in 2018-19. The Senate version has $140 million in 2017-18, and $181 million in 2018-19. The governor’s budget increases funding by more than $153.4 million in 2017-18, and $181.3 million in 2018-19.

•  The House provides $77.1 million in 2017-18 and $79.1 million in 2018-19 to fund capital improvement projects at the state’s 10 commercial airports. The Senate budgets $92.2 million in 2017-18, and $101.9 million in 2018-19. No line item was found for this in the governor’s budget.

•  Both the House and Senate provide $7.6 million over two years to continue DOT development of data analytics systems and models to improve operations.

•  The House appropriates $10 million in both budget years to modernize the Wilmington and Morehead City seaports. No line item was found for that in the Senate or governor’s budget. Both the House and Senate transfer Ports Authority funding from the Highway Fund, where it has received operational support, to the Highway Trust Fund, where it will receive funding through a new Ports Authority Fund, possibly allowing Ports Authority management more flexibility and autonomy.

•  The House provides $1.5 million in 2017-18 and $460,000 in 2018-19 to the Global TransPark near Kinston to relocate offices for the Highway Division and Lenoir County Economic Development, and $400,000 each year for Global TransPark to develop a strategic plan, contract with an outside vendor for marketing services, and turn management of its website over to DOT’s Communications Office. The Senate appropriates $400,000 in each year of the biennium for the strategic plan, marketing services, and operational support. No funding for those items was evident in the governor’s budget. The heavily subsidized TransPark was built as an industrial park and aviation transportation network for international cargo. It has failed to create 55,000 promised jobs or generating the economic activity promised at its inception.