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Citing repair needs, lawmaker seeks ways to replace gas tax revenue

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PHOENIX – Arizona’s transportation system is sorely in need of improvements, but state fuel taxes that fund such work aren’t keeping pace, a state lawmaker contends.

“We are entering a crisis in transportation this year,” said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.

Farley authored SB 1262, which would create a task force to study ways to replace revenue from an 18-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline and a tax on diesel that’s 18 cents per gallon for light vehicles such as pickup trucks and 26 cents per gallon for larger vehicles such as tractor-trailers.

Revenues from those funds haven’t been keeping up with inflation, and roads have suffered as a result, Farley said.

“There’s no funding to do improvements, much less maintenance,” he said.

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, motor vehicle fuel tax revenues in fiscal 2013 were $647.9 million, down from a 10-year peak of $725.8 million in fiscal 2007.

Along with other motor vehicle fees such as those for registrations and licenses, that money goes into a Highway User Revenue Fund that is used for state highways as well as distributed to counties and municipalities.

Farley’s bill calls for a 24-member task force with representation from all regions of the state and from groups including the trucking, road construction and petroleum industries; state, county and local officials; and advocates for motorists, public transportation users and the environment.

The group would start meeting this fall and work with the Arizona Department of Transportation to develop pilot programs.

SB 1262 was assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

Leonard Gilroy, director of government reform for the Reason Foundation, a libertarian public policy think tank, said transportation funding is a national problem that will take years to sort out, in part because of improved vehicle mileage and growth in alternative-fuel and electric vehicles.

“Simply increasing the gas tax is not going to cut it,” he said.

Michelle Donati, public affairs supervisor at AAA Arizona, said Arizona’s gas tax is no longer sufficient to meet the state’s transportation needs.

“We need to find a funding source that is more secure,” she said.

Serena Unrein, a public interest advocate with the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, said it is important for Arizona to be able to fund road maintenance.

“We should be taking care of the infrastructure already built with taxpayer dollars,” she said.

She also said the task force should look into how to fund public transit, which currently cannot be funded by the gas tax.

“It’s important to have flexibility for things Arizonans want and need,” she said.

Farley said it’s vital for Arizona to find a new, stable funding source for transportation.

“Transportation is a key component of government,” he said. “We have to find a way to carry out this core function of government.”