Noting that Utah’s secondary roads are starting to degrade due to increased inflation and decreased emphasis on funding for rural routes, Senator Kevin Van Tassell (Republican – Vernal) made a successful pitch for SB 160 – Transportation Funding Amendments to the Senate Transportation and Public Utilities and Technology Committee Thursday.
The bill, which would raise Utah’s gas tax by 10 cents on unleaded fuel and 5 cents on diesel, is needed to compensate for the inflation on construction materials that have taken place since the last time Utah increased the gas tax nearly two decades ago.
“The ideal of UDOT and of Utah is that good highways are cheap. They are cheaper than having to rebuild,” Van Tassell told the committee, adding that “this [bill] will allow us to bring the kind of funding needed for maintenance on our local roads to stay where we are and improve them over time.”
Senator Karen Mayne (Democrat – West Valley City) noted that her urban constituents are on board with the idea of increasing the gas tax to pay to keep the roads maintained. “A large majority [of those Mayne surveyed] came back and said that they want to be taxed at the pump. I think they understand that and I think that it is upfront. It is a user fee – if you drive a lot, you buy more gas, if you don’t drive that much, you don’t pay very much,” Mayne added.
Abby Albrecht, Director of the Utah Transportation Coalition under the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce commended Van Tassell for bringing the bill forward and for addressing the long term needs for the state. Albrecht noted that this is an investment that many people can absorb the costs, adding that “the bill costs about an average of $48 per year, per driver – that’s about three pizzas per year, per family. While drivers today spend about $250 a year in congestion and an estimated $294 on operating and maintenance.”
Lee Peacock with the Utah Petroleum Association also supported the legislation, praising the bill for being simple and straight-forward. Though refineries would be the way the state collects revenue, Peacock reminded the committee that the petroleum industry also benefits greatly by having well maintained secondary roads in the state.
Food producers, the truckers, the League of Cities and Towns, UDOT, general contractors, and the Wasatch Front Regional Council would echo their support for the bill as well.
Kelsey White from the Utah Taxpayers Association even gave support for the legislation, but not without caveats.
“We certainly agree with the need for transportation funding in Utah… we are especially grateful for the straightforward, transparent nature of this proposal.” White would add that “because we recognize the need for transportation funding we support increased funding, however any tax increase should be revenue neutral across the state budget.”
White would add that increasing in fuel efficiency would mean that the gas tax may not be the best source of revenue going forward, advocating for a greater “user based” model. In particular, a taxation system that specifically taxes vehicle miles traveled.
The bill would pass out of committee unanimously and will be sent to the Senate floor.