Kentucky lawmakers say hike in gas tax needed to fund road and bridge repairs
HB 609 would increase the gas tax by ten cents a gallon.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky lawmakers warn the fund used to fix the state’s roads and bridges will soon be running on fumes, and the solution could cost drivers more at the pump.
A bipartisan group has co-sponsored House Bill 609, which would raise the gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon.
Rep. John Sims (D-Flemingsburg) said the idea came from a transportation work group appointed last year by former House Speaker Jeff Hoover.
Sims said a gas tax increase is overdue to address the $1 billion backlog in unfunded resurfacing needs and more than 1,000 bridges in need of repair.
“The legislature, in the past, hasn't acted as far as taking that hard vote to make things right for the state,” Sims said.
Kentucky’s gas tax is tied to the price at the pump. As it goes down, so does the tax. Right now, by law, the tax cannot go below 26 cents a gallon. Some supporters of HB 609 said that is not enough to fuel Kentucky's future infrastructure needs.
“We have a perfect storm coming in about two years,” said Sen. Ernie Harris (R-Prospect), who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.
Harris said expenses, such as pension costs, are rising. Also, the federal toll credit the state has enjoyed is about to expire. That means Kentucky’s contribution to federal road projects will increase.
According to Harris, it will all add up to a very bumpy ride.
“There will be no money for state road projects to speak of,” he said.
HB 609 would also increase fees for registering electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as fees for late vehicle registration, and reinstating expired driver licenses.
Andrew McNeill of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity is fighting the bill.
“We don't have a revenue problem," he said. "We have a spending problem."
McNeill said the real issue is wasteful spending by the Transportation Cabinet and the lack of an intelligent road plan.
“Kentuckians deserve to have quality roads, but they also deserve to have effective spending of the tax dollars they're already sending to Frankfort,” he said.
Sims laughed at the notion of wasteful spending.
“Just let them come and take a look at the budget and see how much has been cut over the past six to nine years,” he said. “Let's see if they can find some fat in the budget.”
But Harris said raising the gas tax is the most effective way to pay for infrastructure.
“Some people would say it's a user fee," he said. "If you use the roads, you need to be able to pay your part, our part, to keep them up."
With just a few days left in the session, the bill is very much a longshot. The gas tax increase may ultimately become part of a larger tax reform package. But Sims said, until the final gavel, “anything is possible.”
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