Once again, millions of dollars that could have gone toward roadway improvements were diverted by the Arizona Legislature.

Up to $20 million is allowable for diversion under Arizona law (ARS 28-6537). For eight of the past 10 years, however, the Legislature has disregarded this law and has diverted $670 million of the state’s Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) to replace the general fund dollars that normally go to DPS but are applied elsewhere in the state budget.

That’s not all. The Legislature has diverted hundreds of millions more in Vehicle License Tax funds to other budget categories that should be deposited into the HURF and used to maintain roadways in our state.

Even more recently, the Legislature took action in early April to repeal the transfer of funds from the Underground Storage Tank assurance account to the state highway fund. The Legislature had previously directed those funds, which are one-cent of the gas tax, to the state highway fund since the storage tank cleanup is winding down. This new hit to the state highway fund means the same or even more funds being diverted than last year.

Imagine what half a billion dollars would mean for improvements in our statewide roadway system, including Pima County. To be honest, it’s too late to consider that pool of money. It’s gone.

The Legislature must identify innovative ways to manage its financial troubles in order to honor high priorities, such as transportation funding, in perspective to long-term economic impact.

To be fair, the Legislature is not solely responsible for local roadway conditions. It also would be inaccurate to say that stopping HURF diversions would solve the transportation funding shortfall. However, cessation of HURF transfers would be a step, albeit a small one, toward a solution.

If we continue to see the status quo in the Legislature’s budget planning, we will face even greater funding gaps due to higher infrastructure maintenance costs, sometimes exponentially greater.

If the Legislature stops HURF diversions and VLT shifts in the state budget, not only would ADOT and local jurisdictions have more funding available for transportation, it would give Arizona citizens new confidence that the monies they provide for transportation, both now and in the future, will actually go toward their intended purpose.

Ultimately, a strong transportation network statewide is a key factor in attracting economic activity which, in turn, improves our tax base to support statewide core services, such as DPS.

It makes economic sense for the Legislature to boldly address this transportation funding issue. Pumping millions of dollars into our transportation network, as intended, will pay dividends and improve the state and region’s economic vitality and the quality of life for all of our citizens.

I have been raising public awareness against legislative HURF sweeps for some time with my position on the Arizona State Transportation Board along with a number of other community leaders and jurisdictional officials. You can help, too, by contacting your legislators to request that they end this practice to ensure a better transportation system in Arizona.

Steve Christy, chairman of the Arizona State Transportation Board, is a member of the Regional Council of Pima Association of Governments, the region’s metropolitan planning organization. Contact him at steve@stevechristy.us