Carson City ballot question No. 1 asks voters if an existing 5-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel should remain to help fund local road work.
A question of which drivers should help fund Carson City’s aging local roads is coming before voters at a time of high inflation.
Carson City ballot question No. 1 asks voters if an existing 5-cent excise tax on diesel fuel (per gallon) should be continued to fund construction and maintenance of roads in Carson City.
In 2020, the Board of Supervisors approved the tax for two years. It will automatically expire after Dec. 31 if not approved by voters. To date, the tax has raised about half a million dollars each year, a roughly 10 percent increase in road funding.
Even with the tax revenue, however, the current gap between revenue and maintenance needs is estimated to be $21 million per year, according to Carson City Transportation Manager Chris Martinovich.
In a previous interview with the Appeal, Martinovich explained that roads classified as arteries and collectors can receive federal funding, but not smaller local roads, which make up the majority of the city’s roadways. According to a recent report using PAVER software, the pavement condition of local roads has decreased by 9 percent over the last five years, at risk of greater deterioration.
“The funding is being used to fund pavement preservation projects including recently completed projects on Center Drive, Saliman Road, Curry Street, and Silver Sage Drive,” Martinovich said by email. “Future projects using local fuel taxes are planned for Winnie Lane, Mountain Street, and Medical Parkway.”
Carson residents currently pay 15.35 cents per gallon of gasoline that go to city roads, Martinovich said.
“The sunsetting of the diesel tax would mean drivers of diesel-powered vehicles would pay no local fuel taxes towards Carson City roads,” he said.
Counties in the Silver State with less than 100,000 people were not allowed to tax diesel fuel until the Legislature authorized the tax in 2019. That bill was sponsored by the Nevada Association of Counties to help bolster rural roads.
“Diesel-fueled vehicle owners should help fund road and street maintenance,” reads the ballot question’s argument for passage. “Most larger and heavier vehicles use diesel fuel. They accelerate deterioration on roads and streets compared to lighter vehicles.”
The argument against passage cites high inflation and warns the tax will be passed on to consumers.
“With high fuel prices and a 40-year high inflation rate, now is not the time to extend diesel fuel taxes,” reads the argument against. “The tax will be passed onto you, as a consumer, whether or not you own a diesel vehicle. In other words, this will increase the likelihood that you will pay more for goods and services that are delivered by vehicles that use diesel fuel.”
In September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic reported an 8.3 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for the preceding 12 months, before seasonal adjustment, including a 26.2 percent increase in motor fuel compared to the previous year. For the month of August, however, increases in shelter, food and medical care were offset by a 10.5 percent drop in motor fuel (seasonally adjusted) from the previous month.
Ronni Hannaman, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said the ballot question creates a conundrum.
“Trucks generally do not use neighborhood roads which is where the main problem lies,” she said by email. “There seems to be adequate funding for collector and main arteries which is what most trucks use. I do know that any tax increase is not popular with the general public, though they want and demand their roads be maintained.”
Bob Roll is general manager of Carson-based Cinderlite Trucking, which transports rock, sand, and soil for homeowners, contractors, and other clients. He said Cinderlite purchases upward of 12,000 gallons of diesel weekly, which means they’re paying $600 weekly, or $2,400 monthly, for the tax.
“All costs have gone through the roof,” Roll said by phone. “Operating costs are up 25 percent in additional costs in the last year: fuel, payroll, parts, all fields. It costs much more in the endgame, and eventually it gets passed to the consumer. It has to, or else people go out of business.”
Since recent spikes in fuel prices, Cinderlite has added a fuel surcharge to their customers. Roll said while it’s true larger trucks impact roads more than lighter vehicles, Cinderlite trucks rarely use local roads.
“We are on the highways most of the time,” he said. “Trucks do wear and tear the roads, but if the whole goal is to fix roads — I’m all for that — they shouldn’t single out one type of fuel. Everybody should have to pay for it.”
In 2016, a road-funding ballot measure to raise the tax on gasoline — up to 3 cents per gallon annually — failed with 66 percent of Carson City voters rejecting it and 34 percent supporting it.
Carson City Mayor Lori Bagwell said the diesel tax is a tough issue.
“The Board of Supervisors enacted the 5-cent diesel tax for two years so the public could understand the funding received and the road projects it would benefit,” Bagwell said by email. “The board felt strongly that it would then be up to the voters of Carson City to determine if the diesel tax should continue. I know it is a tough issue. The voters of Carson City will decide if we spent the money wisely and if they want to continue the tax or that times are just too hard for diesel users to continue to pay the tax. I look forward to their decision.”