By Will Glade, Capital West News Service
A possible gas tax increase is on the minds of Utah lawmakers as they look toward the 2015 legislative session.
The idea was among those discussed during a recent transportation legislative forum sponsored by the Utah Highway Users Association. Lawmakers opened their 2015 session on Jan. 26.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said, “The gas tax is the second-most-hated tax in Utah” behind property taxes. The tax has not been raised since 1997, which may be due to its unpopularity among Utah voters.
The current gas tax is at 24.5 cents per gallon, an amount that has lost 40 to 50 percent of its value since the last increase. “Personally, I think we just need to buck up and increase the tax,” Niederhauser said. Many roads are no longer being maintained by the Utah Department of Transportation because it lacks funding.
A fund deficit of more than $11 billion must be provided to state transportation to keep up with the state’s current population growth rate. For many years, the state legislation has been using general funds to cover these costs, but it has become insufficient in the recent past. Many legislators are calling for a tax increase.
Members of the Salt Lake Chamber, a local business group, are concerned with the lack of funding for transportation because it has many negative effects on Utah businesses.
Justin Jones, vice president of policy and communications for the Salt Lake Chamber, said, “Transportation is hurting us as businesses. The cost of goods not arriving on time, employees being late to work and gasoline being wasted in traffic all cost businesses more than a gasoline tax increase would.”