Utahns are split right down the middle over whether the 2015 Legislature should have raised the state gasoline tax, a new UtahPolicy poll finds.
Public opinion has wavered back and forth – and lately been against – a fuel tax hike, previous Dan Jones & Associates polls have shown.
The GOP-dominated Legislature ultimately adopted a hybrid gas tax hike – 5 cents more per gallon come Jan. 1, 2016, and then yearly adjustments based on the price of gasoline at the refinery.
Since gasoline has hit low levels recently, almost assuredly the price of gas will go up over the next few years, and along with that the state’s gasoline tax rate.
Pollster Jones finds that 49 percent of registered voters approve of the gas tax hike, 49 percent oppose and 2 percent didn’t know.
You can’t get more even than that.
The poll was of registered voters, 601, taken March 30 to April 7, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percent.
A recent study shows Utah will fall short in road construction and maintenance by more than $11 billion by 2040.
The state’s 24.5 cent per gallon gas tax has not been raised since 1997, and inflation has eaten away around 10 cents per gallon of the current tax’s buying power.
A whole slew of individuals and groups came out in favor of having a gasoline tax hike this past session – even though the state had a $739 million revenue surplus.
And GOP Gov. Gary Herbert supported a gasoline tax hike, as well.
Who knows if SB54 – and its alternative route for candidates to their party’s primary election – had anything to do with the votes on gas taxes?
But a number of new and veteran GOP lawmakers voted for the gas tax hike.
And Jones’ poll finds they did so in opposition to their rank-and-file party voters and especially against the wishes of those who told Jones they are “very conservative” politically.
Jones finds that 42 percent of Republican voters favored the tax hike, while 56 percent opposed.
Among those who said they are “very conservative” – which includes many of the GOP delegates who before SB54 got to vote in convention on all Republican legislative candidates – only 36 percent favored a gas tax increase, while 61 percent opposed.
So, 35 House Republicans and 15 Senate Republicans voted for the gas tax hike. Fifteen is a majority in the Senate, so Republicans alone could have carried the day, even though all the Senate Democrats voted for it.
But 38 is a majority in the House, so it took the House Democrats to get the bill passed over there. All Democrats voted for it, as well.
Here is the vote in the Senate. Here is the vote in the House on HB362.
The votes were complicated politically since the final version of HB362 contains a local option sales tax hike for city and county roads and mass transit districts.
Some lawmakers liked the local option; others didn’t.
It’s Politics 101 that any tax hike comes in an off-election year.
Not only did lawmakers increase the gas tax, they also jumped property taxes by $75 million to provide extra funding for “poorer” school districts – the money to be used to build new schools and maintain older buildings.
All 75 House members and half of the 29-member Senate are up for re-election in 2016, as is Herbert.