A proposal by Gov. Frank Murkowski to raise the gas tax from eight cents to 20 cents a gallon is getting a makeover as it works its way through the state House of Representatives.
The proposal, which is expected to raise an additional $41 million annually, already has been amended in the House Transportation Committee by Willow Republican Rep. Bev Masek.
The original version of the bill would have deposited the revenue into the state general fund, which is used to pay for government services. The amended version by Masek would place the money into a fund that could be used only for highway maintenance.
This plan, however, would require a constitutional amendment to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate and by a majority of the voters in the next general election. The change would prevent the state from implementing the tax until after the election in November 2004.
Department of Revenue Commissioner Bill Corbus said at the House Finance Committee on Monday that the administration opposes the amended version of the bill.
"If the Transportation Committee substitute for House Bill 156 is adopted, there will be no revenues for fiscal year 2004 and only $17 million in revenues for fiscal year 2005, assuming the voters approve the necessary constitutional amendment," Corbus said.
But Rep. Eric Croft, an Anchorage Democrat, has other plans for dedicating the money to road construction.
An amendment proposed by Croft in the Finance Committee would increase the amount given to municipalities to cover road maintenance.
Under Croft's plan, municipalities would get about $15 million of the total $69 million annual gas tax revenue.
Kevin Ritchie, executive director for the Alaska Municipal League, said the average state shares 31 percent of its gas tax revenue with municipalities to maintain roads.
In 2001, Alaska gave municipalities 5 percent, or about $1.5 million for road maintenance.
"One of the pieces which might be really important to getting the public to say that this is really a good thing is to allow them to go to the gas pump and say, 'Yes, I'm paying a higher tax for gas, but part of that money that I'm spending is salting my roads, it's clearing snow, it's patching holes, it's grading ungraded roads ..." Ritchie said.
Rep. Reggie Joule, a Kotzebue Democrat, also offered an amendment that would exempt communities that are not connected by road or ferry.
No testimony was given on either of the amendments, and the bill was held for further consideration.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.`
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