Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Politics & Government

Gas Tax Isn’t Cutting It, So Lawmakers Say Utah Needs To Change How It Pays For Roads And Highways

Arterial City Roads
Rui Mesquita Cordeiro/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Utah’s roads and highways need work, but the lawmakers say they won’t have enough money for projects through gas taxes, and voters don’t like to approve gas tax increases. “Any time we talk about a gas tax increase, we think it's not an inflationary adjustment, it's a tax increase,” said Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton. “So it's been very difficult to increase.”

The gas tax isn’t enough to pay for roads in the state anymore, according to top Utah lawmakers, so they've started experimenting with different types of “user fees” for roads.

In 1970, about 80% of transportation funding came from fuel taxes, according to a report from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute released Wednesday. But last year, gas tax revenue made up just 40% of the transportation budget.

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said that’s because cars are more fuel-efficient and there are more electric cars on the road, so people have to fill up less. Plus, he said, the fees have also not kept up with inflation.

“We've not been able to increase the price because people don't equate it with inflation,” he said. “So any time we talk about a gas tax increase, we think it's not an inflationary adjustment, it's a tax increase. So it's been very difficult to increase.”

Utah has to figure out another way to fund its transportation infrastructure to keep up with explosive population growth, Adams said. The state’s population is expected to nearly double over the next four decades, according to another study from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

During a panel discussion with the organization Wednesday, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said the state is weighing its options for how to fund Utah’s transportation infrastructure.

“We don't know what we're going to do,” Wilson said. “It is a head-scratcher. We are going to probably learn that there may be a solution out there that we haven't thought of.”

One thing they are trying is a program that charges electric or hybrid vehicle owners a fee based on how many miles they drive. Those drivers can opt-in to that program instead of paying a higher fee for their vehicle registration.

Wilson said they’ll also probably try out congestion pricing, which would mean drivers pay more to drive during rush hour or other busy times.

“It's most likely that we're not going to have a really clean, simple thing like we had 50 years ago with the gas tax,” Wilson said. “It's going to be more complex.”

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.