A plan to cover more than a third of Nevada's $3.8 billion shortfall in highway construction funds by taxing truckers and rental car firms was outlined Wednesday by Assembly Democrats.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, was joined by Assembly Minority Leader Garn Mabey, R-Las Vegas, and other lawmakers at a news conference to discuss the plan that would generate nearly $1.3 billion - but Mabey didn't commit to supporting the proposal.
Buckley said that with the exception of higher gasoline taxes, "every transportation funding option should be on the table." She added that she hoped to work with leaders from both parties in the Assembly and Senate on a plan that could win a two-thirds' majority vote.
Any proposal to raise taxes requires such a vote. Also, since Gov. Jim Gibbons is on record as opposing many tax-boosting proposals, the two-thirds' vote is what would be needed to override a possible gubernatorial veto.
Buckley said she hopes to avoid a showdown with Gibbons and instead work with him on a solution to the huge highway project funding shortfall.
The proposal detailed by Buckley and Assembly Transportation Chairman Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas, will be discussed Thursday in a Transportation Committee hearing as a possible amendment to AB595, which started out as a plan dealing with various aspects of existing fuel taxes.
The trucking industry would be hit the hardest by the plan, through a weight-distance tax of 15 cents per mile for all rigs weighing more than 55,000 pounds. The levy could generate $1.2 billion through 2015.
Another $87 million could be raised in the same period by a 2 percent state tax on car rentals. Also discussed was an extension of bond maturity dates to give the state more purchasing power.
Paul Enos of the Nevada Motor Transport Association, asked about the weight-distance proposal, said it would be "absolutely horrible for the trucking industry." He also said that a court battle could develop if lawmakers approved such a plan with elements that violated the U.S. Constitution's interstate commerce clause.
The latest funding plan surfaced a day after transportation officials from around the state warned lawmakers that unless Nevada increases investment in roads, the state's tourism-dependent economy could suffer a slowdown.
Business representatives and Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, joined in to urge the Senate Taxation committee to pass SB384, which would raise and reallocate various taxes and fees in order to pay for road and transportation projects.
Currently, consumers pay 17.65 cents in state taxes per gallon of gas. Under SB384, that tax would increase 6 cents over two years, hitting 23.65 cents per gallon in July 2008. Each year thereafter, the tax would go up with inflation, but no more than 4.5 percent.
The bill also increases the minimum services tax paid on used cars from $6 to $25, and increases the fee for a new driver's license by $20. It would also reallocate certain existing sales taxes to be used for road construction.
Together, the increased taxes and fees in SB384 are estimated to bring in $3.68 billion over eight years for the state Department of Transportation.
Lobbying efforts in support of the measure include a Carson City billboard stating "Detour Ahead: State Road Budget Missing," and billboards in Las Vegas stating "Get your head out of the asphalt."