Lawmakers Hoping to Come to Compromise on Gas Tax Hike

Want to know how the Legislature is going to raise your gasoline taxes over the next few years?

Who doesn’t?

Unfortunately, those answers aren’t quite ready yet.

But UtahPolicy will take a stab at it anyway.

First, it is pretty clear that fuel taxes are going to go up. The question is how and by how much, not if.

House Republicans, in their open caucus Tuesday, talked about several options.

A bill by Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, appears to be the best bet to pass – if it can be changed, so GOP senators agree.

Anderson gives this explanation (much shortened down by UtahPolicy):

— No tax hike during 2015, thus keeping a quasi-promise made by the majority Republicans previously of no tax hikes coming this year, this Legislature.

— A complicated (some may say a “very complicated”) formula will be put in place that – after it is really boiled down – would increase the per-gallon gas tax by 5 cents come Jan. 1, 2016.

— As the price of gasoline naturally increases, the formula will move the per-gallon tax higher automatically. The question still not answered is how fast will that tax go up.

Anderson said it could be 40 cents per gallon (it is now 24.5 cents per gallon) by 2040.

The per-gallon tax will be based on the wholesale average price of gasoline from the previous year, adjusted annually on Jan. 1 of each year.

— Anderson’s bill will also include a voter-approved, local option increase in the sales tax, which will be used by local officials for their own roads and mass transit, if there is a transit district in their area.

— That local option tax is 0.25 percent or a quarter on every $100 of a purchase.

For counties where the local transit district covers the whole county, the 0.25 percent would be split like this: 0.1 percent to the city, 0.1 percent to the transit district, and 0.05 percent to the county.

For counties that don’t have a county-wide transit district, and either don’t have a transit district at all, or the transit district is just in a city, like Park City, the split would be 0.1 percent the city and 0.15 percent to the county.

But in the latter case, the city and county would have the power to give some of their new transportation sales taxes to their transit district(s).

Are you confused yet?

We won’t even try to explain Anderson’s formula that the State Tax Commission will use each year to decide how many cents the per-gallon tax will go up each January.

Suffice it to say it is not enough to make up the $11.3 billion in road work shortfall experts have predicted by 2040 in Utah transportation needs.

Anderson said neither his bill nor Sen. Kevin Van Tassell’s flat 10-cent-per-gallon gas hike bill will achieve that.

“This is just a start,” and an attempt to address in some way the clearly-failing current state gas tax system, Anderson said.

For now, Anderson said he’s working with Senate GOP leaders to find a compromise between his and Van Tassell’s bill.

Senate Republicans will get a per-gallon tax increase – that they like – if the House can get the local option sales tax hike – that their members like.

There are other gas tax reform options out there, like Rep. Dan McCay’s bill, which has not even been introduced yet.

McCay told his caucus Tuesday that he would repeal the state’s per-gallon tax completely and replace it with a 0.7 percent increase in the state sales tax, the increase then dedicated to transportation needs.

But most of the GOP caucus was spent on Anderson’s compromise bill, so it appears that with only seven days left in the session, Anderson’s HB362 seems to have more traction than the others.