GOP Gov. Gary Herbert walked right up to the edge Tuesday in calling for an increase in the state gasoline tax.
But he stopped short.
In a speech to a transportation summit, Herbert listed a number of reasons why state funding of transportation is insufficient to keep up with demand for new roads and maintenance of existing roads.
“Unfortunately, while our transportation needs remain in the fast lane and are even accelerating, the gasoline tax we use to fund these needs is stuck in the slow lane in second gear,” said Herbert.
He listed how several other states have recently increased their transportation funding – Wyoming raised its per-gallon gas tax and Virginia and Georgia placed a sales tax on gasoline.
And then he let the big question lie unanswered: What does he suggest be done in Utah?
Local government officials have already asked the Legislature for more road money and/or give them the power to place their own tax on gasoline.
Several road studies point out that Utah needs more cash for roads – and the state will be $11 billion short of needs by 2040 if somehow revenue is not increased.
But 2014 is an election year for all 75 state House members and half of the 29-member state Senate.
And historically lawmakers have not raised taxes in an election year.
The last time the state’s per-gallon gasoline tax was increased – back in 1997 to 24.5 cents per gallon – it was an off-election year for lawmakers.
And while tax hikes are never liked in Utah, legislators and then-Gov. Mike Leavitt hit a lucky streak – when the state per-gallon gas tax went up that July 1997 by several cents, the price of gasoline happened to be falling.
So the price at the pump – where citizens pay their gas tax – basically went unnoticed.
No political fall out at all in the 1998 elections.
Herbert, some legislators and local government officials may be talking gas tax adjustments in 2014, but it would be unique to Utah politics if a tax hike is adopted in an election year.
More likely momentum will accelerate in 2014 for a gas tax hike in 2015 – a year before the governor’s race of 2016, and time for the ouch! of a tax hike to be forgotten or at least forgiven by voters.
His office officially told UtahPolicy that Herbert doesn’t support a tax hike for roads now, but he believes it is time to start discussing various options.
No matter how one looks at it, says Herbert, there is a funding gap for Utah roads and something needs to be done.