A Republican state representative is proposing a gas tax increase this year. The Utah legislature has not passed a fuel tax increase in more than 15 years, but Representative Jim Nielson of Bountiful argues the roads need funding, and those who use them should be the ones who pay. Republicans as a rule don’t like to do be associated with tax increases, but Nielson insists raising taxes on gasoline is a conservative idea.
“I think it’s a very strong conservative principle that the ones who use a resource should be the ones who pay for it,” Nielson says. “Increasingly, sales taxes are being used to fund transportation. As sales taxes fund transportation, they can’t fund other things. So, the people using the roads are paying less and less of the cost of using the roads, as gas taxes actually go down with fuel efficiency, and costs of road construction and maintenance go up.”
Right now, Utahns pay about 24 cents per gallon of gas to the state. In House Bill 240, Nielson is proposing an increase of 1.5 cents per gallon every year over the next five years. He says the increase could be offset by decreases to income taxes – a proposal put forth in a separate bill. Nielson acknowledges that it’s difficult to pass a tax increase in an election year, but he says it’s important to have the conversation.
“We as a society want roads. We as lawmakers don’t want to pay for them because we think that society at large doesn’t want to pay for them,” Nielson says. “If we can communicate clearly that in fact we need to pay for what we’re expecting government to do, I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”
Nielson won’t have to worry about how his efforts to raise the gas tax will affect his re-election. He announced last month that the 2014 legislative session will be his last.