Proposed law links fuel tax to state transportation projects

Posted: Wednesday, March 08, 2000

Fuel taxes would power transportation projects if a proposed change in the constitution becomes law.

The House Transportation Committee approved a proposal Tuesday to dedicate gas and other fuel taxes to transportation.

House Joint Resolution 5 still has miles to travel before it becomes law. It must clear two more committees in the House before making it to the House floor and go through a similar process in the Senate. Then it would need to be approved by voters because it's a change in the state Constitution.

With a few exceptions, the constitution currently doesn't allow for any ``dedicated'' funds, in which tax proceeds from a particular source can be earmarked for a specific purpose.

The proposed change would have motor fuel taxes set aside for maintenance of roads and highways and public transit. Marine fuel taxes would be dedicated to harbors, and ferry passenger fees would be spent on maintaining and operating ferries.

``We want to make sure at least the amount of money that is collected in the (ferry) tolls goes into the marine highway system itself,'' said Rep. Alan Austerman, the Kodiak Republican who is sponsoring the legislation.

Rep. Allen Kemplen, an Anchorage Democrat, pushed for the addition of public transit.

If the constitutional change is adopted, the Legislature could spend the transportation-related tax money for other purposes only if three-fifths of both the House and Senate agreed.

Dennis Poshard, a special assistant in the state Department of Transportation, said one concern is that the measure would raise the public's hope that more money would be spent on roads.

In fact, with cuts to the department's budget, less money will be spent on roads, even if a dedicated tax passed. Poshard said tax revenues would be far less than operational costs.

Committee Chairman Rep. Andrew Halcro has tabled a bill to raise gas taxes because of high fuel prices. However, the Anchorage Republican said citizens would be more likely to accept such a tax increase if they knew the money was paying directly for transportation.

The committee passed the measure on a 4-3 vote, with Juneau Republican Rep. Bill Hudson voting for it.

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