SALT LAKE CITY — A new plan to split the gas tax so half of the money currently raised for transportation comes from an increased sales tax "may have a heartbeat," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said Tuesday.
With the majority of lawmakers facing re-election this year, they'll have to choose "between a nickel or a dime once every decade versus making the tax policy one that will grow," the speaker said. "It's a tough decision."
Under the proposal, outlined to the House GOP caucus by Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, Utahns would pay 12.25 cents a gallon for gas at the pump and an additional 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent in sales taxes on other purchases to pay for roads.
The new structure would be revenue neutral for the first year, raising $330 million. In future years, the gas tax could be increased up to 2 percent annually to keep up with road maintenance costs.
"We need to do something about making sure UDOT and local communities have the money they need to maintain those roads," Anderson, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, told the caucus.
He said details of his proposal are still being worked out, but the intent is to continue to divide the roads funds 70-30 between state and local governments while putting the collections "on a more stable footing going forward."
The last time the state hiked the gas tax, now at 24.5 cents a gallon, was 1997. Anderson said because of inflation and the greater fuel efficiency of cars, the purchasing power of the tax has dropped some 40 percent since then.
Utah Department of Transportation Executive Director Carlos Braceras, who talked about the costs of snow removal, road repair and other maintenance at the caucus, said the proposal would provide "some sustainability."
The caucus took no position on the proposal, but House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said it is an attempt to help meet the needs of local governments when it comes to paying for roads.
Dee said an increase in the current gas tax is not "in the cards right now," advising that there are still concerns about the proposal.
"This is not the panacea or the silver bullet for everyone," he said.
The speaker, who didn't attend the caucus, liked "a shift away from complete reliance on the gas tax because it’s a dying revenue stream." Drivers who use alternative fuels would help pay road costs through the sales tax, she said.
"Everybody in society benefits from good transportation, even if you sit at home and never drive," Lockhart said.
Still, she said the proposal is preliminary and other ideas for funding transportation are expected to surface this session.
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