WILMINGTON -- Gov. Mike Easley has come under fire in recent months about gas tax money being diverted to the state's general fund. The revenue from the tax is supposed to fund roadway projects. Candidates for state office tell NewsChannel 3 what they would like to do with the money. Right now, North Carolina's gas tax is as high as it can go, after Gov. Easley capped it last year. It now stands at 30.15 cents. That makes it one of the highest in the nation. It's the main source of revenue for road projects, and many feel should have gone into the state's highway trust fund. But candidates question why the governor and state legislature have been transferring a portion to the state's general fund instead. Justice Bob Orr is running for governor. He said, "Ever since the highway trust fund was started back in the 1980s, the legislature has held out about 180-million dollars each year from the trust fund. And I think clearly that money needs to go into the highway trust fund for road projects as opposed to the general fund." Opponent Pat McCrory wants to bring back as much money as possible to the highway trust fund that he says has been stripped away by Gov. Easley and the legislature over the past eight years. Bill Graham would ask that the transfer of money from the highway trust fund be stopped immediately. He says he would then propose a bond to relieve congestion on interstate systems and begin repairing bridges. Fred Smith also wants to dedicate 100 percent of highway trust fund and other transportation resources to highways and infrastructure by stopping the transfer. He also proposes issuing $4 billion in new transportation infrastructure bonds to accelerate the construction of critical projects and improve highway maintenance. He says the $172 million annual transfer of funds can provide the resources to repay this debt, and we can pay for the Highway Patrol and driver education out of the general fund. On the Democratic side there is a similar view from Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue. Perdue said, "I'd stop the transfer from the highway fund to the general fund very quickly. And I'd use that money to have a million dollar or more bond issue to address congestion needs and gap funding for areas like Wilmington." Perdue's opponent Richard Moore stands alone from the crowd."It's simplistic to say stop the transfer unless you're going to say, well, OK, it's coming out of the same pie -- what are you going to do to fix the money you just stole from? What are you going to do with the kindergarten or More at Four programs or the community colleges that you just took their money?" Moore said. "The real answer is making better use of the dollars that you're taking in and maximizing the resources that you have." And here's what US Senate candidates Kay Hagan and Jim Neal have to say on the issue: Neal said, "Gas taxes were supposed to go toward road projects, that's where they should have gone." Hagan said, "Well, I think if you look back in the history of how that took place it used to all go into the general fund, and then it was decided let's set up a separate entity strictly for roads, but yet it held harmless the original general fund money. It's really the fact that we probably need to pull away and start putting that back into the roads. It's not like you usurped it -- that's just the history of how it got started."
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