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Fri, July 19

Editorial: State motors ahead with fee to fix roads, rather than tax hike

A fee to help pay for road work is advancing in the Legislature — with good and not-so-great stipulations.

In this space on Sunday, Feb. 11, we told you about “A tax by any other name still is a tax.” That’s because lawmakers have basically been told “no new taxes” by legislative leadership and Gov. Doug Ducey. Instead, the state is focusing more on added fees, in this case through the Arizona Department of Transportation.

At issue is the Highway User Revenue Fund — money that we all pay through gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees — which are being siphoned off to help pay for Department of Public Safety needs. And, the gas tax has not been raised since 1991 and it is not bringing in enough money for roads.

The new fee would raise about $120 million for road construction and repairs. Voting 35-24 on Tuesday, the House agreed to allow ADOT to charge a new fee on all vehicles — to raise the $120 million annual cost of operating the Highway Patrol — amounting to about $17 to $19 each year. You would pay the fee when you register your vehicle.

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, crafted HB 2166, which would protect the HURF. “We’d all like to have more HURF money back for our counties,’’ he told colleagues.

The good news is it would help pay for necessary road improvements and construction.

Also good news is that owners of electric and natural gas powered vehicles would pay more. Yes, currently, they pay gas taxes but not much in the way of vehicle license fees — yet, they use the same roads as those of us who own gasoline-powered vehicles and pay registration in full.

Vehicle license fees are based on a tax on 60 percent of the vehicle’s original purchase price, Capitol Media Services explained. ADOT computes the first-year fee for a $30,000 vehicle at $504. The assessed value of a $30,000 alternate fuel vehicle, however, is only 1 percent of its sales price; that same vehicle owner pays only $12 a year in vehicle registration fees.

We agree with Campbell: “They’re not paying their fair share.”

The bill (HB 2166), which is now heading to the Senate, eventually would hike the registration fee for most alternative fuel passenger cars and light trucks to one-half of what it would be for a similarly priced gas- or diesel-fueled vehicle.

Another action afoot came Monday when the Senate approved a measure to allow counties, with voter approval, to levy a sales tax of up to 1 percent to raise money for local road needs. That works, being up to the voters, but it could pile on when the state is passing along enough fees in lieu of taxes. We’ll see.

Regardless, should the Senate approve and Ducey sign off, road work ahead will not be a “stop” but a green light.


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