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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
4:27 AM Fri, Nov. 16th

Editorial: A tax by any other name still is a tax

Poll: How would you prefer to fund necessary road improvements or the Highway Patrol?

Unable politically to hike the state gasoline tax to help pave and repair roads, a House panel voted Feb. 7 to impose a new fee when people register their cars and trucks every year. (WNI illustration)

Unable politically to hike the state gasoline tax to help pave and repair roads, a House panel voted Feb. 7 to impose a new fee when people register their cars and trucks every year. (WNI illustration)

If it looks like a duck, feels like a duck, and sounds like a duck, it might be a duck. Consider the same statement, substituting “tax” for the word “duck.”

Our state’s governor, Doug Ducey, does not want any tax hikes enacted on his watch. Whether that is a promise he made while campaigning in 2014 and 2015, or a pledge he is keeping to help with his re-election, no matter.

Reader poll

How would you prefer to fund necessary road improvements or the Highway Patrol?

  • A gas tax increase shared by residents of the state as well as visitors to Arizona. 92%
  • A fee increase on vehicle registration that only state residents would pay. 6%
  • Let the state continue to keep Highway User Revenue Funds, and have the Board of Supervisors enact a 1 percent sales tax hike for roads. 2%

51 total votes.

State lawmakers have not truly enacted any tax increases since Ducey took office.

Yet, as a result, unable politically to hike the state gasoline tax to help pave and repair roads, a House panel voted Feb. 7 to impose a new fee when people register their cars and trucks every year, the Courier reported via Capitol Media Services.

The effort was crafted by Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott. If approved, it would amount to somewhere between $17 and $19 a year on each vehicle. House Bill 2166 would empower the head of the state Department of Transportation to impose the charge that would, when applied to all vehicles, raise enough money to fund the Highway Patrol.

The same thing — gas tax or otherwise — was tried last year, by Campbell, unsuccessfully.

This year the measure advanced out of the House Committee on Transportation and Technology on a 7-1 vote, sending the measure to the full House. Campbell chairs the panel. “Nobody enjoys raising taxes, of course not,” he said. “But you know the condition of the roads and bridges and infrastructure in this state.”

The need is great. The money is not there. Lawmakers do not want to be known for raising taxes, and a new fee technically is not a tax.

But we all know it is a tax, only by a different name. In this space, The Daily Courier has warned that full recovery from the Great Recession will come with some pain. This is an example of it.

Forget that all residents and visitors to Arizona would pay the gas tax, helping to support what they actually do to the infrastructure.

Forget that the state’s 18-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax has not been increased since 1991, when the average price of a gallon of fuel was $1.14. The average price at the pumps now is about double that, and the number of vehicles and their fuel efficiency on the roadways has risen. That means revenue from gas taxes is not keeping pace with needs.

Also forget that the state has been keeping the Highway User Revenue Fund for DPS needs. That is a Catch 22 – helping the highway troopers, but withholding money counties would have used to fix roads. By the way, the legislation in question also would allow county boards of supervisors to raise their own money for roads — by a 1 percent sales tax increase — another tax.

The answer is simple: earlier this past week lawmakers took the first steps toward asking voters to hike what they pay every time they fill up at the pump.

Send the question to the people.

Those we elected cannot seem to fix the roads, secure solid funding for DPS, put in place respectable financing for schools and teachers, … or call a fee what it really is: a tax.