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Legislature should invest in effective transportation infrastructure

The trucking industry supports an increase to the gas tax or other taxation methods provided it is converted to a unit tax for reporting purposes.
The trucking industry supports an increase to the gas tax or other taxation methods provided it is converted to a unit tax for reporting purposes.

During the opening days of the 2015 Utah State Legislature, there has been considerable discussion regarding the need to invest in the state’s transportation future.

The buying power of the dollar has decreased significantly since the gas tax was last increased 18 years ago. While there are several proposed funding mechanisms currently on the table, the Utah Trucking Association would prefer to see a plan that is simple, comprehensive and statewide. The trucking industry supports an increase to the gas tax or other taxation methods provided it is converted to a unit tax for reporting purposes.

Transportation funding is critical to Utah’s economy as well as the trucking industry. Trucks transport more than 85 percent of total manufactured tonnage in the state, or nearly 200,000 tons per day. Eighty-one percent of Utah communities depend exclusively on trucks to deliver and transport their goods. There are nearly 8,000 trucking companies located in Utah, most of them small, locally owned businesses. All of this leads to one fact: Utah is dependent on a well-functioning transportation system.

The trucking industry in Utah enjoys relationships of respect and trust with both regulatory and enforcement agencies. As a result, we are able to do our work safer and more efficiently in order to facilitate commerce with minimal impacts to the flow of traffic.

Recent census reports indicate that Utah is growing at about twice the national average. Envision Utah estimates that the state will double in population by 2050. Such extraordinary growth requires clear thinking and effective planning now so that we are prepared with an effective transportation system that keeps Utah progressing — today and tomorrow.

Many have suggested that gas taxes be indexed to allow revenue dollars to adjust, dependent on inflationary patterns. The Utah Trucking Association supports a method of indexing provided revenues generated are exclusively used to improve the transportation infrastructure. We recommend such an index is converted to a unit price or gas tax equivalent and contains a ceiling and floor to ensure rates do not depreciate below current funding levels or rise above reasonable percentages. In order for an index to be applied in the most simplistic manner, we suggest that the conversion is calculated (annually) to forecast and budget fuel expenses. Further, we suggest that vehicles using alternative fuels such as natural gas and electricity be taxed at a similar rate to gasoline and diesel to account for such vehicles' highway usage.

As participants in the Utah Transportation Coalition, the association appreciates the visionary work done to prepare Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan. This plan anticipates needs for road capacity, maintenance and overall transportation needs for Utah’s metropolitan and rural areas between now and 2040. We understand that current funding mechanisms will leave us more than $11 billion short of funding this much-needed infrastructure. We are prepared to do our part to assist in making up that shortfall.

With this in mind, we know that such an increase will impact us significantly due to the gallons of diesel fuel we purchase daily. TJ England, vice president and general counsel for C.R. England, may have said it best when he stated:

“The trucking industry will be greatly impacted by such a tax, but we readily accept the responsibility to contribute in order for the transportation infrastructure to be maintained and expanded to foster our growing state's economy. If we shirk the duty to pay for the infrastructure we all use, we will all pay for it in the inefficient form of a 'hidden tax' that comes through infrastructure decay, increased congestion, and damage to all of our vehicles and equipment. As the old adage says, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ ”

If an increase in transportation funding can be accomplished and the revenue is used specifically to facilitate the planning and development of an improved transportation system, we believe it will be worth it for all Utahns. We respect and appreciate the efforts made by the Legislature to consider carefully this important investment in Utah’s future.

Richard A. Clasby is the executive director of the Utah Trucking Association.