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With gas prices expected to stay around $3 a gallon this summer and perhaps rise in the fall, Utah residents aren't likely to support an increase in the state gas tax next year, according to a new survey.

The survey was done by Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV. Only 13 percent of the respondents said they would support a gas-tax increase, although 19 percent said they would support an increase if the state income or sales taxes were reduced proportionally.

Another 29 percent of respondents said the gas tax should remain at its current 24.5 cents per gallon, while 36 percent said the tax should actually be lowered.

The statewide survey of 410 people was conducted May 21-24. The margin of error was 5 percent.

Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, said Tuesday that the results were not surprising, given high gas prices. During this year's legislative session, he also received negative comments about a possible gas-tax increase.

"That (poll) seems to be fairly reflective of the comments we were presented with during the session," Harper said. "I think it reflects the sentiment that people feel something should be done (with the gas tax), but they don't know what."

During the session, Harper sponsored a bill to lower the state gas tax to 15 cents per gallon, and then charge sales tax on all gasoline purchases. Utah does not currently collect sales tax on purchases of gasoline, and its overall tax on gasoline, including federal taxes, is 2.9 cents lower than the national average.

Surrounding states — including Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming — have lower gas taxes than Utah.

Harper said the goal of his bill was to get lawmakers talking about different ways to fund more than $20 billion in needed road projects, which are partly paid for through the gas tax.

Harper's bill was amended to increase the gas tax by 10 cents over a 10-year period, instead of the sales-tax option, but the bill ultimately did not come to a vote. The Utah Taxpayers Association and other groups hope to revive talks about a gas-tax increase, and lawmakers plan to discuss the issue during their July interim meetings.

Harper did not say whether he will sponsor his bill again.

During the Taxpayers Association's annual meeting earlier this month, the group called for a 25-cent hike in the gas tax, along with a proportional drop in the state income tax. The gas-tax hike could raise up to $350 million in funds and is part of a four-prong proposal to make transportation spending more efficient by encouraging people to carpool, live closer to work and telecommute, said Mike Jerman, the association's vice president.

The other three parts of the association's proposal include directing money to help preserve routes for future roads, combining the funding pools for both roads and rails, and congestion pricing, which allows the state to charge variable amounts to people driving on a road, depending on the congestion. Jerman believes his group's proposal, which includes the gas-tax increase, will be supported once the public has had a chance to thoroughly discuss the options.

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"Transportation funding issues have not been adequately discussed in public," Jerman said about the proposal. "The fact there is a large percentage (of the poll respondents) who want to cut gas taxes is proof that many in the public do not understand our transportation funding crisis."

But Richard Drake, a Millcreek resident, said lawmakers and special-interest groups should look at other options to fund road-building. For example, extra money could be taken from the state's general fund, rather than raising a tax that he believes will negatively impact many drivers.

"I have little sympathy for these kind of hare-brained ideas," Drake said. "I think it is absolutely insensitive to people who have to drive every single day to work and back and who are literally living almost hand to mouth. I am so disgusted with the insensitivity to the common man and woman who have to work."



E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com