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Lawmakers Hike Gas Tax
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Beginning next year, the gas tax will jump from the current 24.5 cents to 29.5 cents per gallon under legislation passed by the Utah Legislators on Thursday.

Motorists will see Utah’s gas tax increase, thanks to an 11th-hour compromise between the Utah House and Senate.

Lawmakers have borrowed from education and universities for years to cover road and bridge repairs. They agreed to end that practice by fixing the 24.5-cent gas tax.

“That will help stop this bleeding of education money towards transportation,” Senate President Wayne Niederhauser told reporters.

But the House and the Senate disagreed on the best solution until minutes before 2015 General Session concluded.

In the end, they settled on a new formula: hiking the tax by 5-cents-a-gallon next year. House Bill 362 also limits future increases to 40 cents per gallon.

Republican Rep. Johnny Anderson called it a “generational” step.

“I realize this requires dedicated public servants to cast a courageous vote,” he said in a final pitch to fellow House members. “But our children and our grandchildren will thank us for our nerve and foresight. I encourage you to support this grand compromise.”

Lawmakers also gave counties the option of adopting a local sales tax for transportation.

Billy Hesterman, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, criticized lawmakers for not using some of this year’s $740 million surplus instead of raising taxes.

“They should do it with the money taxpayers have already given them,” he said, “instead of going back to them and saying we need more.”

The new tax is expected to raise about $54 million the first year.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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