After 16 days of the 2015 Legislative session, two different approaches to generate additional revenue for transportation infrastructure have emerged.
Both may lead to an increase in the price of gas at the pump.
Senate Bill 160, introduced on Feb. 6 by Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, calls for a flat 10 cents per gallon increase in the state’s per gallon motor vehicle fuel tax.
If passed, SB 160 will raise the state’s current 24.5 cents per gallon gas tax to 34.5 cents per gallon.
“This bill comes about as a result of the opportunity to decide how to best fund the transportation and maintenance facilities on the highways in the state of Utah,” said Van Tassell, when he introduced the bill in a Senate Transportation and Public Utilities and Technology Committee meeting.
The gas tax has not been increased since 1997. Since then, according to Van Tassell, inflation has reduced the amount of maintenance that can be done on the state’s roads. As a result the Utah Department of Transportation reports that highways are not holding up and are in danger of structurally failing.
The extra 10 cents per gallon should restore the transportation maintenance fund to its 1997 purchasing power, he said.
Organizations that have spoken in favor of the 10 cents tax increase include: The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, the Utah Petroleum Association, the Utah Food Industry and Retail Merchants, the Utah Association of Counties, the Utah Truckers Association, the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the Association of General Contractors, the Wasatch Front Regional Council, and the Utah Department of Transportation.
SB 160 was sent to the full Senate on Feb. 13 with a 6-0 favorable recommendation from the Senate Transportation and Public Utilities and Technology Committee.
Meanwhile a different approach to the gas tax issue was unveiled in the House.
A bill to replace the per gallon gas tax with a percent-based sales tax on gas was introduced by Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, on Feb. 19.
Anderson’s bill, House Bill 362, would replace the 24.5 cents per gallon gas tax with a tax equal to 14 percent of the average wholesale price of gas paid at a refinery’s terminal.
Counties would also have the option to adopt a 0.25 percent sales tax on gasoline with 0.10 percent distributed to counties and cities using the current allocation method based on miles of roads and population.
In Tooele County 0.10 percent of the local gas sales tax, if adopted by the county, would go to the Utah Transportation Authority, and 0.5 percent would be spent by the county on transportation projects of regional significance.
Anderson’s bill is currently in the House Rules Committee waiting assignment to a committee.
Randy Sant, Tooele City’s economic development consultant who lobbies for the city on Capitol Hill, explained the most likely pathway for both bills.
“What usually happens in cases like this is the House passes their bill and the Senate passes their bill,” he said. “Then a joint committee is appointed that works out some kind of an agreement, then it goes back to both houses for approval.”
The Tooele City Council passed a resolution that supported a statewide increase in taxes for road maintenance at their Nov. 19, 2014 meeting.