SALT LAKE CITY — The sweeping bill from the Legislature's Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force has been scaled back significantly, but it still includes vehicle registration fee hikes for electric and hybrid cars.
After action by the House Transportation Committee on Monday, there are no other tax or fee increases in SB136, and the extra $120 charge for registering electric vehicles, $50 for plug-in hybrids and $20 for other hybrids will be phased in over three years.
Unchanged in the bill, however, is big shift in how the Utah Transit Authority is managed. The 16-member board of trustees would be replaced by three trustees appointed by the governor who'd run the agency day to day.
The bill also continues to open up state transportation funds to transit projects and allow for some local option sales tax increases in counties that have not already adopted all of the quarter-cent hikes available.
"I know where this is going," the sponsor of the bill and co-chairman of the yearlong task force, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, said as revenue sources were stripped from his bill.
The changes came from Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, the task force's other co-chairman. Schultz said lawmakers need more time to get comfortable with the increases.
"We do need to address the revenue side at some point in the future," he said.
Harper's bill had narrowly passed the Senate, even after he replaced increases in hotel room taxes and rental car fees with a statewide sales tax hike, as well as a $28 vehicle registration fee increase.
That increase in the current $44 registration fee for all vehicles was dropped to $10 in a substitute bill in the House committee and then eliminated through an amendment.
The bill then passed the committee 9-1, with only Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, opposed. Kwan said her constituents made it clear they opposed higher fees for electric and hybrid cars.
"I understand it's important. I understand we need to do something," she said, but added, "my constituents come first."
Much of the concern raised about the bill during the public testimony was about the higher fees on electric and hybrid vehicles. Opponents warned that Utahns could be discouraged from driving cars that contribute to cleaner air.
Laura Schmidt, of Salt Lake City, said she and her partner, who suffers during inversions, sold their paid-off minivan and took out a $10,000 loan to buy a new electric car, "a decision made entirely with air quality in mind."
Schmidt said it was a sacrifice they were willing to make and urged lawmakers to incentivize such vehicles rather than add the equivalent of an additional car payment to the cost of driving them.
Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, said he recently bought a hybrid car and is disappointed he'll have to pay more in registration fees. He said what's important to his constituents is the restructuring of UTA.
Fawson said he's heard plenty from them "about the dumpster fire that is the current state of UTA."
Harper said the bill still has the framework for the improvements necessary to meet growing transportation needs over the coming decades.
"We cannot build enough roads to build ourselves out of congestion," he told the committee, asking them to "imagine I-15 double-decked clear across the Wasatch Front. I don't want to imagine that."