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Tax hikes sought for road projects

Regional council's proposal could mean higher prices at pump

The Wasatch Front Regional Council on Thursday approved a recommendation to the state Legislature for a number of tax and fee increases that would fund future transportation projects.

Collectively, the tax hikes would generate more than $25 billion by 2030 for highway and public transit improvements.

The WFRC estimates current revenue streams will account for only 25 percent of the state's transportation infrastructure needs over the next 25 years. That leaves about $23.6 billion in unfunded projects.

The council's recommended tax increases would more than cover those expenses. And they include a variety of mechanisms for raising the money.

But most of the funds would be collected from motorists through gasoline taxes. And the result could be a hefty hike in pump prices, particularly along the Wasatch Front.

"We ought to find ways of sharing the burden for paying for all of this," Doug Hattery, a senior engineer for the regional council, said of the effort to include a variety of taxes and fees.

The WFRC is submitting four alternative tax/fee packages for the Legislature to consider. But the council selected one of those packages as its preferred option. That option includes the following measures, likely beginning in 2006:

Imposing a statewide sales tax on gasoline of 4.75 percent (in addition to the existing per-gallon tax).

Adopting a local-option sales tax on gasoline of 1 percent in four counties (Davis, Salt Lake, Utah and Weber).

Charging an additional statewide tax on gasoline of 5 cents per gallon.

Indexing the statewide per-gallon gasoline tax so that it adjusts for inflation, likely increasing the tax about 3 percent (or about sixth-tenths of a cent) each year.

Imposing a local-option gasoline tax of 5 cents per gallon in four counties (Davis, Salt Lake, Utah and Weber).

Raising the statewide vehicle registration fee an additional $20 per vehicle (doubling the current fee).

Charging motorists for new roads through tolls, and offering drivers traveling alone the option of paying to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

Increasing the Utah Transit Authority's sales tax share to a uniform half cent throughout its service area.

Increasing property taxes by .0012 in the UTA service area to fund general obligation bonds.

Seek additional federal funding and legislation allowing redevelopment agency financing.

Other possibilities include a statewide property tax increase for road improvements, but that suggestion was not included in the council's preferred option.

The suggested tax package would include financing for both rural and urban projects.

"The rural areas may not have a lot of capacity needs but they do have a lot of rehabilitation needs," Hattery said. "U.S. 6 is a fine example of that."

The last time the state's per-gallon gasoline tax was increased was in July 1997. That 5-cent hike went into the Centennial Highway Fund to pay for the reconstruction of I-15 and other projects totalling $3.4 billion. That statewide road construction plan will be completed in 2007 but not paid off until 2017, leaving billions of dollars in unfunded road needs and no funding source until 2017.