Friday, February 28, 2014

AAA condemns fuel-tax bill

Trucking industry says itís just a start

Express Staff Writer

     AAA Idaho contends that a bill to increase gas taxes is a ploy by the trucking industry to preclude a highway-funding solution that would raise revenue more equitably between cars and trucks.

     But the Idaho Trucking Association says its bill is just a starting point in a conversation on a long-term and very complicated issue.

     Idaho House Bill 481 would raise the 25-cent state gas tax by 2 cents per year for three years. It is intended to at least partly address a $262 million annual shortfall in the state’s highway maintenance.

     That deficit filters down to the local level. Blaine County gets 90 percent of its road and bridge funding from state and federal gas taxes, and voters will likely be asked this May to approve a two-year $3.5 million property-tax levy to cover a growing backlog of maintenance needs on county roads.

     A 2010 Idaho Highway Cost Allocation Study conducted for the Governor’s Task Force on Modernizing Transportation Funding concluded that long-haul interstate trucks are underpaying their share of the costs they impose on roads and bridges, while cars and smaller trucks are overpaying their share. Through fuel taxes and registration fees, the owners of cars are paying 126 percent of the costs that their vehicles impose on roads and bridges, while the owners of large trucks are paying only 77 percent, the study found.

     The study determined that the gap has widened during the past dozen years. It made its comparisons by analyzing vehicle weights, gas mileage and annual miles traveled.

     One policy option considered by the study was to raise the 25-cent fuel tax by 5 cents on gasoline. However, the study concluded that to achieve equity between cars and large trucks, the tax on diesel fuel would then have to be raised by $1.05 cents per gallon, to $1.30 per gallon. Taking those two steps would raise about $308 million annually.

     The current bill would tax both gas and diesel equally, raising an estimated $53 million each year—$37 million from increased gas tax and $16 million from diesel.

     “The Idaho Trucking Association pitched this bill as putting its money where its mouth is, but this is a gas tax, paid primarily by motorists,” said Dave Carlson, AAA Idaho public affairs director. “It’s less a solution, and more of a public relations strategy.”

     Carlson said AAA is concerned that passage of HB 481 could stall other long-term solutions.

     However, Idaho Trucking Association President Julie Pipal said her organization’s intent was to take a small step toward solving a very large problem.

     “We wanted to propose something that people can start talking about, not something that had numbers that are overwhelming,” she said. “The public can’t even get their minds around $262 million. We’re seeing people come forward and start strategizing. That’s what we wanted.”

     Pipal said she doesn’t dispute the cost and revenue figures contained in the 2010 study, but she said the analysis should be broadened to consider the economic benefits conferred on society by the trucking industry and the costs that would be passed on to consumers by increased fuel taxes.

     Carlson said he thinks the issue is moot for the time being anyway, since he has been told by legislators that there’s no chance of a tax-increase bill being passed this year. However, Pipal said the bill has received more support than she expected.

     “We’re going to maximize any opportunities that we get,” she said.

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