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September 23, 2017

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County commissioners see real need for ability to raise gas tax

Clark County Commissioners

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak Launch slideshow »

Legislators heard the reasons Thursday why they should give Clark County the authority to raise gas taxes.

But the question remains as to whether the Clark County Commission would actually use that authority to apply an “index tax,” which would link the gas tax to inflation and make every gallon of gas you buy in Clark County more expensive over time.

Commissioner Tom Collins said he supports both the state legislation and a subsequent commission vote to raise the county gas tax through a formula that ties the tax to inflation, thereby allowing it to rise about 3 to 4 cents per gallon, according to a Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada presentation.

“The county commission has the obligation and responsibility to approve it,” Collins said in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun. “If our county commission doesn’t it approve it, it’d be one of the dumbest things they’ve done.”

Commissioner Larry Brown also supports the idea in a resolution he signed in February in his role as chairman of the board of the RTC. Chris Giunchigliani also serves on that board.

In an interview, Brown said he supports raising the fuel tax to generate more revenue for capital projects, but would need to see how the change would impact drivers, how much money it would generate and what projects those funds would be directed to before signing off on an increase.

“As far as capital financing for infrastructure, we don’t have money, the RTC doesn’t have money,” he said.  “This would create dollars that we could use immediately for critical needs and to create jobs.”

Brown said major improvements like Project Neon or the Boulder City Bypass would be logical targets for increased revenues, but that smaller projects should also benefit.

“It’s not going to benefit the county or a city so much as the region as a whole,” he said.

The RTC’s resolution states that it supports "the implementation of fuel tax indexing.”

The county commission as a whole plans to consider a resolution on the matter at its April 2 meeting.

Legislators heard Thursday that transportation projects are going uncompleted throughout the Las Vegas valley because revenue from gas taxes has been down in recent years.

That’s attributed to better fuel efficiency, and the fact gas tax revenues haven’t kept up with inflation because they’re tied to a fixed, 9-cent per gallon county rate.

Clark County has not raised its fuel tax since 1995, according to Brown’s resolution.

Indexing the gas tax to inflation would bring in $26.8 million during the first year of the tax, said Tina Quigley of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada.

The transportation commission could turn around and bond that money for up to $230 million in the first year — and more than $600 million in the first three years — that would help pay for a list of $808 million worth of vital road projects in Clark County.

Those projects could create approximately 11,000 jobs to fund projects like Interstate 11 and the Boulder City Bypass, Quigley said.

Brown noted in the transportation commission’s resolution that every $1 invested could bring in an additional $4 in federal highway construction grants.

Every other county in Nevada has the statutory authority to levy a index fuel tax; Clark County does not.

Only Washoe County has elected to pass the tax. Washoe County’s indexed fuel tax has triggered annual tax increases of about 3-cents per year, according to data provided by the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The tax is now a little more than 15-cents per gallon higher than it otherwise would have been absent the tax.

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