Gas-tax plan wins supporters

Carolyn Kelly, a representative of TRIP, a national transportation research group, speaks at a press conference at the Legislative Building on Thursday.

Carolyn Kelly, a representative of TRIP, a national transportation research group, speaks at a press conference at the Legislative Building on Thursday.

A wide variety of business and other interests joined the parade of supporters for legislation that would more than double Nevada’s gasoline tax to build and repair the state’s deteriorating highways.

Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, introduced Senate Bill 377, saying it would cost the average driver just a dollar a month but eventually raise on the order of $300 million a year.

It would add two cents each year to the existing 17.5-cents-per-gallon tax until a total of 20 cents had been added in 10 years.

The price of gasoline goes up and down that much or more in a week, Segerblom said, so he doesn’t see it as that big a burden on the average driver.

In a news conference preceding the hearing, Sparks Mayor Gino Martini joined the list of supporters, saying he normally opposes tax hikes but that “in this case, I don’t see any other choice.”

“We’re behind the 8-ball in fixing roads,” he said. “If you keep funding the same, it’s never going to be fixed.”

He was joined by John Madole of the Associated General Contractors, Paul Enos of the Nevada Trucking Association, Danny Thompson of the AFL-CIO and others who backed the measure, saying it would not only fund road construction and repair but create thousands of jobs in Nevada.

Enos said for a trucker driving 100,000 miles a year, the tax after 10 years would cost $330, but that the organization is backing the measure.

The bill would fund work on state-maintained highways and bridges, not locally constructed and controlled streets and roads.

Technical support for the plan came from the national transportation research organization TRIP, which presented a report saying the condition of Nevada highways is costing residents some $2.1 billion a year from added vehicle operating and repair costs, wasted fuel in traffic jams and crashes.

NDOT estimates the backlog to repair state-maintained highways and bridges is $2 billion and growing, TRIP official Carolyn Kelly said.

NDOT Director Rudy Malfabon told those at the news conference that the state does have a major backlog of needs both in preserving existing roadways and expanding capacity to relieve congestion. While Nevada’s bridges are rated in the top 10 states for overall condition, he said, that doesn’t mean they’re in good shape.

Malfabon said he had not yet run the idea of raising the gas tax past Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has consistently opposed the idea of higher taxes.

Segerblom said the money raised by the gas tax would be spent on specific projects as determined by experts at NDOT and the state Transportation Board. The idea is that it be apportioned across counties by according to population and highway road miles.

Brian Wachter of the retail association said that group wasn’t really in opposition but wanted it on the record that higher gas taxes would affect the price of retail goods being shipped into and across Nevada.

John Sande of the Western States Petroleum Association said that instead of looking at higher gas taxes, the committee should take a longer-term look at the issue and study funding by other means, such as vehicle miles traveled.

Republican activist Carol Howell told the panel the state should look at how it spends its existing funding instead of higher taxes, such as how to further cut costs.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, pointed out that last session, Nevada cut a bigger percentage of its state spending than any other state. He said he understands people opposing tax hikes, “but what’s your solution?”

Janine Hansen of Nevada Families and Eagle Forum pointed out the proposed increase would, at the end of 10 years, more than double the existing gas tax. She said Nevada families are having enough trouble making ends meet without the added hit of more expensive gasoline.

The committee took no action on the bill.


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