Utahns are split over whether to raise the state gasoline tax this year to help pay for needed road construction and repair, a new poll shows.
Dan Jones & Associates asked 715 registered voters recently whether they favored, opposed or were neutral on raising the gasoline tax.
And he found that 37 percent of Utahns oppose such a move, 36 percent support it, and 27 percent were neutral – neither favored nor opposed a gas tax hike.
Utah’s 104 part-time lawmakers seem on track to change the state’s fuel taxing method, with GOP House and Senate leaders saying they don’t want to increase the tax directly.
Rather, leaders are looking for a way to change the stagnant per-gallon tax take, paid at the pump, into some form of taxation that will increase revenues as the price of gasoline goes up.
Right now the price of gas is way low, dropping in half in less than a year.
But indications are the price of crude oil is rebounding.
And if lawmakers set some neutral gas price level before they adjourn mid-March, by this summer odds are the tax will be bringing in more revenue that the per-gallon gas tax did six months ago.
The new poll was conducted by the Exoro Group and Zions Bank as part of the pair’s annual pre-legislative conference.
The results were given to UtahPolicy for publication. Jones interviewed 715 Utah registered voters between Dec. 22-Jan. 10, and the results having a margin of error of plus or minus 3.66 percent.
Republicans control both the Utah House and Senate, and if majority legislators are only looking at their party members it’s not good news for state and local transportation advocates.
Jones found that a gas tax hike is opposed by Utah Republicans, 38-30 percent, with 31 percent being neutral.
Democrats favor a gas tax hike, 48-27 percent, with 25 percent neutral.
While political independents favor the tax increase, 39-37 percent, with 23 percent neutral.
A joint transportation study commission found last year that by 2040 Utah would have $11 billion in unmet transportation repairs and expansion, if the current 24.5-cent per gallon gas tax isn’t changed.
Jones noted that to meet that need it would cost the state an estimated $435 million a year in new gas tax revenue – and asked the 715 respondents if they favored or opposed such an expenditure.
Thirty-four percent of all Utahns said yes, spend that much each year on roads.
But 35 percent opposed such spending, and 31 percent were neutral.
Broken down by partisanship:
— Republicans opposed spending $435 million a year, 40-29 percent, with 30 percent neutral.
— Democrats favored such expenditures, 54-19 percent, with 27 percent neutral.
— And political independents barely favored the spending, 37-33 percent, with 36 percent neutral.
GOP legislative leaders are thinking that the current per-gallon gas-tax take should be calculated as of mid-March, and then a new sales tax placed on gasoline to bring in that amount.
As the price at the pump rose or fell, the state would take in more or less gas tax revenue.
But at least to start out, the gas tax rate change would be neutral, neither bringing in more money, nor less money.
That would allow Republicans in the 2015 Legislature to truthfully say they did not raise the gasoline tax this session.
But almost certainly, as the price of gasoline went up in the state, consumers would be paying more in gas tax, and the state would start to make a dent in the road construction and repair so much needed.