Thursday, September 16, 2010

Part 4: Know your governors

The primary season draws to a close this week as states across the nation are finalizing their fall ballots. In the weeks ahead candidates will be ramping up their messages to likely voters in their pursuit of Election Day validation.

In the lead-up to Nov. 2 it is worthwhile to take a look back at some noteworthy actions taken by governors who are once again vying for the spot atop their state government’s totem pole.

Candidates in 15 states are vying to keep their grip on the governor’s chair, and four candidates are trying to reclaim their spot after once holding office.

In recent weeks I’ve revisited the actions of candidates in Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon and Texas. You can read about them here. Today I’ll take you for a walk down electoral memory lane to brush up on two more governors running for reelection. The candidates are Jim Gibbons in Nevada and Dave Heineman in Nebraska.

Nevada Gov. Gibbons has signed numerous bills into law that are significant to truckers. Among them is a 2007 law that relies on borrowing to get roadwork complete. The law adds $1 billion in bonds for improvements to I-15 and U.S. 95 in the Las Vegas area and I-80 near Reno. The money is being routed from the diversion of rental car and property taxes, as well as hotel room taxes in Las Vegas.

In 2009, Gibbons ramped up truck enforcement. The law enables people officers and inspectors of the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Public Safety to stop commercial vehicles in Washoe and Clark counties to check size and weight.

During the same legislative session, lawmakers got the final say on a tax bill when they voted to override a Gibbons veto. The governor sought to prevent Washoe County from enacting a voter-approved fuel tax increase to pay for roadwork. He voiced concern that voters might not have understood they were supporting a tax hike.

In Nebraska, Dave Heineman is looking for another term in office. Among the notable bills signed into law during his first term is a 2007 law that allows all vehicle operators to travel faster along stretches of two Omaha-area roadways – U.S. 275 and Route 75.

Vehicles were given the go-ahead to travel 65 mph along the two four-lane highways, which is 5 mph faster than they could before.

A year earlier Heineman authorized funds to local governments for new road construction and maintenance.

Since then, all sales and use tax collected on motor vehicle, trailer and semi-trailer sales have gone to the state’s highway fund. The half-cent in the 5.5-cent sales tax that previously was diverted to the state’s general fund is now used for local road projects.

In 2008, Heineman turned back a bill to allow the state’s fuel tax to increase by about 1.2 cents per gallon. The Legislature, however, voted to override the governor in an effort to raise nearly $15 million a year for the Department of Roads.

The extra revenue was touted to cover the agency’s rising salaries and health insurance costs without dipping into construction funds.

Heineman approved a separate bill to get tough with those in the trucking industry who don’t heed their out-of-service orders. The penalties for violations were beefed up to meet federal standards.

Also in 2008, Heineman inked the so-called “super speeders” law. The $300 fine and four-point deduction is applied to anyone caught speeding by more than 35 mph on roadways – including interstates and residential areas.

In the coming weeks be on the lookout for more blogs about governors on fall ballots and their actions on truck-related issues.