County idea: Keep expiring gas tax, use funds to fix crumbling streets

2013-04-26T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T11:21:31Z County idea: Keep expiring gas tax, use funds to fix crumbling streetsBecky Pallack Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and the Pima Association of Governments want the state to raise gas taxes, with the extra money dedicated to patching the holes in local streets, not the ones in the state budget.

For starters, they want lawmakers to extend the life of a 1-cent gas-tax add-on that is supposed to pay to clean up contamination from leaking underground storage tanks, although in recent years the Legislature has seized the money to solve other budget shortages.

The tax is set to expire on Dec. 31, so local leaders figure drivers won't see any increase by extending it, and will benefit from better streets.

Drivers now pay 19 cents a gallon at the pump in state taxes, including the penny for the storage tank fund, and 18.4 cents a gallon in federal taxes.

Instead of expiring, revenue from the 1-cent tax could be put to good use repairing our crumbling streets, John Liosatos said at an Association of Governments Regional Council meeting Thursday.

"It certainly seems like a good idea to us. People are already paying that penny now," said Liosatos, PAG's transportation planning director.

Local governments have a nearly $1 billion backlog of street maintenance.

Huckelberry estimates the 1-cent tax raises $29 million a year statewide, but much of the money has been swept from the cleanup fund to help balance the state's budget in recent years, he said in a memo to the Board of Supervisors.

How much of that $29 million would come back to Pima County and other jurisdictions would depend on how lawmakers chose to reallocate the money.

Some Tucsonans like the idea.

"I'd want to put the penny toward potholes, but I'd want a guarantee that it wouldn't be pilfered," said Kathleen Kennedy, who carpools from Vail to Tucson.

"If it's just a shift in funds, I think it's a great way to not burden taxpayers and fix an ever-present problem," said Tucson businessman Stephen Perri.

The idea hasn't taken root yet at the Legislature.

A bill that would have continued the tax and the environmental cleanup fund was approved by the House last month, but it stalled in a Senate committee and never made it to the Senate floor.

Huckelberry wants the Board of Supervisors to ask the Legislature to keep the 1-cent tax and give the revenue to local governments to fix streets, although with the legislative session winding down, the prospects of it getting done this year are uncertain.

He also wants the board to tell the Legislature to raise the gas tax by 10 cents - a 53 percent increase.

"While gas-tax increases are not likely to be popular, they are necessary," he wrote in a memo to the supervisors.

The gas tax hasn't increased since 1991, and the average gas tax in neighboring states is 10 cents more than Arizona's gas tax, he said.

The PAG Regional Council - made up of local mayors and other civic leaders - supports a 5-cent gas tax increase.

On StarNet: Go to azstarnet.com/ politics to read more about local and state government and political news.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@azstarnet.com or 573-4346. On Twitter @BeckyPallack.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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