Utah increases gas tax

Utah increases gas tax
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State lawmakers in Utah have increased the amount of money drivers in their state will have to pay at the pump to help pay for transportation projects, the Salt Lake City Tribune reports

The Utah legislature has voted to increase the 24.50-cents-per-gallon gas tax in the Beehive State by 5 cents starting next year, according to the report. 

The additional money for Utah road projects will be collected on top of an 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax that is charged to all drivers in the nation’s to fill the federal government’s transportation funding coffers. 

The American Petroleum Institute says the gas tax increase will bring the total amount of money that drivers in Utah are charged at the pump to nearly 48 cents per gallon. 

Utah is the latest in a series of states to increase their local gas tax in recent years as federal transportation funding has dried up. 

Lawmakers are currently facing a May 31 deadline for the expiration of federal transportation funding and they are struggling to come up with a way to pay for an extension of the measure. 

Transportation advocates in Washington have pointed to the willingness of Republican states like Utah to raise their own gas tax as evidence that a hike in the national levy would be politically palatable this year. 

"Republicans can vote to increase the gas tax,” Association of Equipment Manufacturers spokesman Michael O’Brien said in an email to The Hill last week. “We’ve seen that repeatedly this spring as GOP legislatures in Iowa, South Dakota, Utah and more have voted to do so.” 

Conservative groups in Washington have made clear that they would consider an increase in the federal fuel levy a tax hike, however.

"Rather than raise the federal gas tax, a better policy would be to repeal the federal tax and let states pay for their own road projects," the Heritage Action group said in a blog post on its website. "Devolving transportation projects back to the states will ensure that gas tax money is used for the highest value-added projects."

The gas tax has been the main source of transportation funding for decades, but it has not been increased since 1993, sapping its buying power.

While the tax hike has backing from business associations and unions, opposition from conservative groups such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth has caused GOP leaders in the House to suggest it is a non-starter.

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax will only bring in $34 billion annually without an increase.