Local government officials from throughout Montana, including ours here in Great Falls, are pushing the Legislature to pass an 8-cent tax increase on gasoline, as well as a 7.25-cent increase (both figures per gallon) to the state’s diesel tax. The bill at issue, HB 473, sponsored by Rep. Frank Garner, R-Kalispell, was introduced in the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday.
The Tribune’s very good Capitol reporter, Phil Drake, cited testimony from Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly, City Manager Greg Doyon, and Austin Walker of the GFDA, who all support the tax increase:
Mayor Bob Kelly said the Electric City is a river town and though roads and bridges over the river are not the city’s responsibility, ‘our citizens drive them every day.’
He pointed to the Great Falls Public Schools’ recently passed $100 million bond of an example of a community supporting infrastructure projects and encouraged lawmakers to have the courage to move the bill forward.
City Manager Greg Doyon said communities need the flexibility the bill provides to fund projects.
Austin Walker of the Great Falls Development Authority also endorsed the infrastructure proposal and ‘everything the bill will do in this state.’
We have to admit, we’re a little torn on this one. While we generally oppose net tax increases, the revenue generated from HB 473 would go towards infrastructure projects and the Montana Highway Patrol. With infrastructure comes the adage, “Pay now, or pay more later.” HB 473 would also act as an effective tool to capture revenue from tourists. On the other hand, we’re concerned about the regressive nature of increasing the fuel tax. Montana ranks 49th in the nation in wages, and Great Falls — with over half of its public school students eligible for free and reduced lunch (p. 7) — is, on balance, a low-income community.
This graphic from the Tax Foundation shows where Montana stands in relation to other states’ fuel tax rates:
What do you think? Do you support paying more at the pump? Vote in our poll, and tell us why in the Comments…