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Proposal to increase gas tax in Utah moves closer to becoming law

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Posted at 9:17 PM, Feb 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-12 23:17:07-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utahns could be paying more for gas at the pump soon. A proposal to hike up the state's gas tax cruised through a Senate Committee meeting Thursday.

Lawmakers in the Senate Transportation and Public Utilities and Technology Committee unanimously approved the proposal, all agreeing it was necessary to fill a massive funding gap for transportation in the state.

"If we don't start maintaining it, we will lose it; and the cost to rebuild will be astronomical," said Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal.

Sen. Tassell is proposing a bill that would increase the state's gas tax 10 cents per gallon, raising it from 24.5 to 34.5 cents. The increase would generate approximately $130 million annually for maintenance and repairs on state freeways and major roads.

"This bill would actually go a long way to actually saving tax payer dollars in the future, by making prudent investments in the near term," said Andrew Gruber of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, one of several who testified in favor the bill Thursday.

But over in the House, it's a different story. Lawmakers are currently working on an alternative proposal to address the concerns

"What do you worry more about? The revenue that it does or doesn't provide, or the volatility that could result," said House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper.

The bill has not been made public, but details are emerging. It would call for a percentage tax on the price of gas, similar to a sales tax. That number would be based on the average price of gas for the past 24 months. Therefore, as the price of gas goes up at the pump, so does the revenue generated by the tax.

"Our roads are now in a position where we need to fix transportation and to make sure that we take care of these things," Tassell said. "This is very forward. It's very clear. It's very plain."

Tassell's proposal now heads to the full Senate for further debate. The proposal in the house is expected be released early next week.