Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

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Sun editorial:

Roads and taxes

Gas-tax plan would help boost the economy now and in future

Clark County Commissioners are considering a proposal to raise the local gas tax to pay for roadwork and transportation projects.

The official plan, which the commission is expected to see this month, would tie a gas tax increase to the rate of inflation — roughly 3 cents a gallon each year. It would be in effect until a statewide vote on the issue in 2016.

Clark County’s portion of the gas tax, about 9 cents a gallon, hasn’t been increased since 1995. That has left the county with less money for transportation projects. Add to that greater fuel efficiency, which means people buying less gas and paying less in taxes. The result is that transportation planners are hard-pressed to find money to meet the needs of Southern Nevada. The Regional Transportation Commission has seen a drop in funding for road construction from $135 million a year a decade ago to roughly $22 million a year.

Income from the new tax, which would add $16 to a driver’s annual fuel bill the first year, would be used to raise a bond issue of up to $800 million. That money would help the Regional Transportation Commission pursue key projects, including work on the Las Vegas Beltway, the planned Interstate 11, and improvements for Paradise Road and Maryland Parkway.

RTC general manager Tina Quigley told the Sun’s Conor Shine last month that the tax increase would also lead to 5,500 new jobs directly and an additional 4,000 jobs indirectly.

“If this does not pass, I think we’re going to be stalled for a little while,” she said. “It certainly isn’t enough to continue to grow and diversify our economy.”

The tax plan has run into some criticism, including from county commission Chairman Steve Sisolak.

“My problem is I believe the tax needs to be broad-based, it needs to be stable and it needs to be fair,” he said. “My concern about this tax is it’s none of those.”

Sisolak noted that someone with an electric car would pay nothing in gas taxes, which support roadwork.

He is correct in that this is not the most fair tax. A plan like the “vehicle miles tax,” which assesses drivers based on how many miles they drive, would be more fair, and Sisolak has said he would support that. But such a tax is difficult to implement, as other states have found out, and Nevada isn’t close to taking that on. The idea has come up in the past but so far has gone nowhere.

Regardless, that isn’t before the commission and it isn’t an option. It’s something that the Legislature would have to approve, and state lawmakers should consider it. But that’s another issue. What’s in front of the commission is whether to increase the gas tax, and in our view, there’s no question. Southern Nevada needs a strong transportation system, which is part of the foundation of a strong economy.

Good roads allow tourists and goods to come here, and the current taxes don’t do enough to pay for the needed work. The gas tax plan would help tremendously. The commission should support this measure. It would literally pave the way to a better economy.

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