If you’re among those who have started dreaming of an easier commute on State Route 347 to the Valley because funding has been appropriated for a Riggs Road overpass, you may want to pump your brakes.
A group of conservative lawmakers in the state legislature headed by state Rep. Jake Hoffman of Queen Creek, LD-12, which encompasses the far southeast Valley, is opposing several transportation bills as “pork” projects, including the $35 million budget appropriation for the design and construction of the overpass.
According to the Associated Press, division among Republican lawmakers about the state budget deal negotiated between Gov. Doug Ducey and GOP leaders is at the heart of the debate. Several Republican members of both the House and Senate have decried the deal due to spending that, they say, “goes against their conservative fiscal beliefs.”
Other lawmakers are concerned that a massive tax cut that would be part of Ducey’s proposed new 2.5% flat tax rate for the state could wipe out the state’s current $1.9 billion budget surplus and leave coffers dry in future years.
Hoffman, a budget hawk, is part of a group that opposes about $75 million in transportation spending in the budget, according to Hank Stephenson, editor of the Yellow Sheet Report political tip sheet. A document obtained by InMaricopa outlined the group’s opposition to the spending, including a list of projects that “must go.”
“He’s a new lawmaker, claims to have a little gaggle of 10 like-minded folks pushing back against these transportation projects among a bunch of other things, as pork spending,” Stephenson said of Hoffman. “Although for what it’s worth, I don’t think those are getting cut out of the budget. The house policymakers, the budget drafters have made it exceedingly clear, as has Ducey, that these kinds of capital transportation projects are a do-or-die item for them.”
The AP reported that Hoffman voted Tuesday against all 11 budget bills in the House Appropriations Committee.
State Rep. Bret Roberts of Maricopa, LD-11, who introduced the Riggs Road bill earlier this year, left no doubt about his position on the bill despite his generally fiscal conservatism.
“The idea that the Riggs overpass project could be called pork is ludicrous,” Roberts said. “This is a vitally important project that is desperately needed to protect the lives of those who drive SR 347. I am proud to have taken the lead on getting this project funded and will do everything I can to get it over the finish line.”
If the full $35 million Riggs overpass appropriation is included in the budget it would represent a significant portion of a multi-year, multi-pronged effort to increase safety and reduce congestion on the SR 347. That effort includes widening the highway to six lanes and improving the intersections at Casa Blanca Road and the Cemex plant.
The appropriation designates $25 million for design study and construction of the overpass, $2.5 million for environmental study and $7.5 million for design and easements. The City of Maricopa has committed $1 million toward the project and the Gila River Indian Community recently signaled its buy-in for improvements on SR 347, which runs through its land.
Rep. Mark Finchem, the other state representative in LD-11, did not respond to a request for comment from InMaricopa.