Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
FILE - Vehicle registration fees would jump from $44 to $72 but there would no longer be a statewide sales tax increase under the latest version of the Legislature's Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force bill.

SALT LAKE CITY — Vehicle registration fees would jump from $44 to $72 but there would no longer be a statewide sales tax increase under the latest version of the Legislature's Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force bill.

Senates voted 18-9 to give SB136 preliminary approval Tuesday night. A final vote in that chamber could come as soon as Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, still includes an overhaul of the Utah Transit Authority. UTA's 16-member board of trustees would be replaced by a three-member management team responsible for running the agency.

But Harper, the co-chairman of the task force that met throughout last year to plan for the state's transportation needs, substituted the bill to eliminate a proposed 0.15 percent statewide sales tax hike to raise $80 million for mass transit projects.

The bill, which kept the option of local sales tax increases for transportation, dumped the statewide sales tax increase in favor of adding $28 to all vehicle registration fees.

The increased fees, which would include charging electric car owners an additional $122 and those who drive plug-in hybrid vehicles, another $52, are expected to raise $85 million annually for the new transit fund created in the legislation.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, and other legislative leaders had said a tax increase will be a hard sell to lawmakers in a year when revenue growth adds up to well over $500 million.

Tuesday, the advocacy group Americans for Prosperity Utah issued a statement urging the Senate to drop the proposed tax hike for the "plagued" transit authority that is operating with a $2 billion deficit.

"Taxpayers should not reward UTA with more of their hard-earned money. UTA has been poorly managed and now they want taxpayers to make the sacrifices they’re unwilling to make," the group's state director, Heather Williamson, said.

During the Senate debate, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, called the fee hike in the bill a "pretty significant increase."

But Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said Harper "chose probably the lesser of several evils, but I think it’s a major step and we have to be united in doing this."

He did, however, raise a question about UTA salaries under the new management structure.

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Harper assured him the three-member management team's earnings were "not going to be exorbitant wages seen in past," but closer to $130,000 each while the new general manager's pay would be in line with "acceptable state standards."

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, tried and failed to replace the bill with one calling for a gas tax increase of more than 30 cents a gallon, to come up with the $600 million shortfall in the current gas tax.

"People who use roads ought to pay for roads," Dabakis said. "It is welfare."