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Op-ed: Utah motor-fuel tax needs 21st Century rebuild

By David R. Golden and H. David Burton

First Published Feb 21 2014 05:45 pm • Last Updated Feb 21 2014 05:52 pm

Utah has long been a leader in disciplined planning and investment in transportation. These principles have kept our economy moving, provided a platform for growth and improved our quality of life. However, the foundation for how we fund transportation – the motor-fuel tax – needs restructuring.

This is not a new issue. Enacted in 1929, the motor-fuel tax has been increased 10 times to restore purchasing power and to meet the needs of our community. A fundamental flaw of a fixed per-gallon fuel tax is that it has not kept pace with inflation or the increased fuel efficiency of newer vehicles.

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Unlike the past, for nearly two decades our elected officials have postponed what should be automatic: restoring and preserving the purchasing power of the motor-fuel tax.

Transportation is a broad-based issue. It affects every sector of the economy and every Utahn. Lack of action has and will increasingly have a negative impact on the safety and efficiency of our infrastructure, and therefore our economy and quality of life will suffer. We need to restructure the motor-fuel tax and we need to do it now.

There is little doubt that a deliberative discussion and pragmatic solutions to address our long-term funding challenges are needed. This discussion has already begun and will continue the upcoming interim session, an effort we applaud. However, the Legislature must do more than deliberate this general session. It must act.

Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan – a national best practice – has identified that as a growing state, Utah needs approximately $11 billion in additional revenue for transportation infrastructure and maintenance by 2040. This shortfall affects every community in our state. Without prudent action now to close this gap, our economy and quality of life will suffer.

A proposal on Capitol Hill — Senate Bill 60 — is being considered and has our full support. This proposal provides the right approach, fixing the structural imbalance of the motor fuel-tax, preserving purchasing power without a tax increase and continuing to have users pay the majority of costs.

This proposal will not address all of our transportation challenges. Local and county governments still need support and our air quality could benefit from more frequent and convenient transit. Nevertheless, it provides a stable and adequate source of funding for long-term transportation funding and planning. Our state has long been regarded for our fiscal management – this is an opportunity to prove it.

H. David Burton is co-chair of the Salt Lake Chamber’s Utah Transportation Coalition with David R. Golden, a former chair of the Salt Lake Chamber’s Executive Board.




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