SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — It's past time for Utah to hike its gasoline tax for the first time in 17 years, several state lawmakers said at a meeting Wednesday.
The transportation panel discussed a proposal to raise the state tax 1.5 cents per gallon every year over the next five years. To date, Utah collects 24.5 cents per gallon. The last time lawmakers raised the rate was 1997.
Waist-high weeds and crumbling roads show the current rate isn't enough to maintain each of the state's roads and bridges, transportation officials said.
Finding the cash for road repairs struck a nerve at the Capitol as Utah and other states anticipate a disruption in federal transportation aid to states this summer.
"We're at a critical tipping point," said Rep. Johnny Anderson, a Taylorsville Republican who chairs the Transportation Interim Committee.
To date, Utah is forgoing routine repairs on a third of the state highways, the department said, noting those roads are the most seldom used ones. The state needs an additional $67 million for repairs, said Carlos Braceras, the director of the state Department of Transportation.
Rep. Jim Nielson, a Republican from Bountiful, unsuccessfully brought the legislation to gradually raise the gas tax this year. But local officials last year said they weren't counting on lawmakers to raise the state rate anyway: the House and half of the Senate are up for re-election in the fall.
Lawmakers said they plan to take action on the issue in January, but some warned hiking taxes too high could lead drivers to avoid the pump in Utah altogether.
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