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Lawmakers consider gas tax proposals

Lawmakers consider gas tax proposals

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — State and local officials say it's time to raise Utah's gasoline tax, which hasn't changed for 16 years.

On Wednesday, a panel of legislators discussed two ways to raise the tax, including a proposal from local officials and another from a state lawmaker.

Members of the Transportation Interim Committee took no action on the proposals Wednesday and said they expect to continue discussing the issue throughout 2014. The full Legislature would have to give final approval to any increase.

The gas tax helps pay to repair and build new roads, but Utah transportation officials say the current rate is not meeting needs.

"We're getting to the point where we've got to do something," said Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, a Vernal Republican who chairs the committee.

In Utah, federal and state gasoline taxes amount to about 43 cents per gallon. Of that, about 24 cents goes to state and local needs, but cities and counties are asking lawmakers for additional revenue.

AAA weighs in
Rolayne Fairclough with AAA Utah said she thought a small tax increase would be acceptable, but told lawmakers that any significant hikes would hurt citizens.

She noted the average amount of money Utah residents earn per person is among the lowest in the country, but the gas proposals could make their taxes some of the highest.

"You need to balance these things out with what people can actually afford," Fairclough said.

County and city leaders have asked the Legislature to let counties start collecting a new 3 percent tax for local roads. The tax would be calculated annually based on the previous year's pre-tax gasoline price.

Local officials said the annual adjustments would allow them to keep up with rising costs.

If it was implemented next year, the 3 percent rate would be about 10 cents per gallon.

Beyond the local proposal, state Rep. Jim Nielson is planning legislation next year that would raise the state tax 1.5 cents per gallon every year over the next five years.

The Bountiful Republican has said if the proposal by cities and counties is approved, revenues from his proposed tax increase would be dedicated to state highways.

Utah lawmakers last raised the tax in 1997.

If both proposals pass, Utah gasoline taxes would increase from about 43 cents per gallon to almost 55 cents next year. Compared with other states, that would push Utah's state-imposed tax from the middle of the pack to some of the highest rates in the country.

Local officials have said they aren't counting on lawmakers to raise the state rate next year, as half the Senate and the entire House will be up for re-election in the fall.

Counties say they'd like permission to raise the rates themselves.

Nielson has said he considers his proposal an adjustment to match changing costs, rather than a tax increase. He also said drivers should help pay for roads and bridges.

"Those that use our resource should be the ones that pay the major cost of that resource," he said.

Van Tassell noted the issue is politically unpopular but said Utah will have to address it in the next year or so.

Lawmakers, he said, will not "kick this can down the road for very long."

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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