OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- House Speaker and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Marty Stephens says it is about time to raise the state's gasoline tax to pay for highway construction.
"There are some taxes that periodically have to be increased," Stephens said Thursday during a debate before Utah Association of Counties members. "I voted for a 5-cent (per gallon) increase in the gas tax in 1997 and I believe we're nearing the time when we're going to have to have a gas tax increase."
Stephens said the 1997 Legislature cut the sales tax to offset the gas tax hike, and he would require a similar shift to support another gas tax increase.
"You probably thought it was strange that a candidate for governor would be that frank," Stephens said later in an interview. "I just want to run a campaign that doesn't distort how I would really govern.
"Any candidate who is in office for the next eight years will be faced with and will be supportive of a gas-tax increase sometime in the next four to eight years."
Stephens was the only one to address the gas tax during the debate at the Eccles Conference Center, so The Salt Lake Tribune later contacted the other candidates.
"We can make it through for a few more years" without a gas-tax hike, said Gov. Olene Walker, but added that the gas tax is among issues being considered as part of her comprehensive tax structure review.
Businessman Fred Lampropoulos opposed increasing the gas tax.
"I just don't believe that's the way to go about it, especially with the burden that puts on rural Utah," he said. "There's another way to finance roads and that's the efficiency of government, not to put more taxes on the backs of our citizens."
Businessman Jon Huntsman Jr. said a gas tax increase "over the next several years, is going to be on the table. But I don't think we're there yet."
Regents Chairman Nolan Karras doesn't believe a gas-tax hike is practical anytime soon despite the pressing need for highway-construction funding increases.
"The problem I have with the gas tax is the last time I looked, we're still, I think, the highest state in the area," said Karras.
Utah's 24.5 cent per gallon tax is the third-highest in the Mountain West, behind Montana (27 cents) and Idaho (25 cents), according to the Federation of Tax Administrators.
"That would be the last thing in the world I would want to do," former U.S. Rep. Jim Hansen said of a gas-tax increase.
State Sen. Parley Hellewell, R-Orem, said he might support a gas-tax hike if it was offset by other tax cuts, but "I don't think it's time yet, but it might be in a year or two."
Gary Benson said he "would rather see a toll road" to finance highway construction.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)