Clean air, education become allies in fight for funds
Tax credits • Legislation would continue tax credits for Utahns buying cleaner-burning cars or converting vehicles.
Published: February 25, 2013 10:04AM
Updated: February 26, 2013 07:48PM

A battle pitting clean air vs. education saw a truce Monday where the two sides decided to quit tussling and become allies in the fight for state funding.

The House Revenue and Taxation Committee earlier had defeated HB96 — which would continue tax credits set to expire this year for buying or converting vehicles that use cleaner burning fuels — because it would take an estimated $2.3 million a year from education funds.

But the committee reconsidered the bill Monday, and amended it in ways to extend the most important credits — but eliminate some it says are no longer needed — and shift much of the burden for the credits to the general fund instead of the state education fund.

In fact, amendments adopted now would allow no more than $500,000 for the credits to come from education funds — less than the $1.14 million a year the clean-car credits are now costing education.

“We’re making the hit easier on education, but now we’re hitting heath and human services, and hitting law enforcement, corrections, and all the other things” financed by the general fund, said Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, sponsor of HB96. So essentially, clean air and education — two of the hottest issues this year — become allies for funding against other agencies and priorities.

The bill was endorsed unanimously by the committee, and now goes to the full House — a big turnaround after the committee had killed an earlier version of the bill on a 7-8 vote.

The bill now would provide credits of up to $2,500 for buying or converting vehicles that use cleaner burning fuels, including hybrids or vehicles that use natural gas or electricity. It would eliminate some credits now available for buying high-mileage vehicles because Draxler said many modern cars offer such mileage anyway, so extra tax credits to make affording such vehicles are no longer needed.

Draxler said state figures showed 552 vehicles were bought in 2011 using the clean fuel tax credits that would be extended, which state air quality officials figure reduced pollution by 485.8 tons.

Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, who converted his own car this year to run on natural gas, said extending the tax credits to make such conversions more affordable “is not the answer to all concerns to air quality, but it is one piece of policy that we keep in place” to help reduce inversions and pollution.