Missoula County, Mont., voters approve local gas tax

June 3, 2020

Keith Goble


Voters in Montana’s second largest county on Tuesday decided to tax themselves more to provide a boost to local transportation work. The gas tax question was approved by a 51-49% margin.

The state and presidential primary ballot in Missoula County included a question to impose a 2-cent local excise tax on gas purchases. Diesel fuel is excluded from the increase.

The gas tax increase is estimated to raise $1.1 million annually largely for road construction, maintenance and repairs. A portion will be used to reimburse retail sellers.

The county now relies largely on local property taxes to foot the expense for road maintenance. The tax collection amounts to about $750,000 yearly.

Pros and cons of the gas tax

Advocates for the gas tax increase said three-quarters of a million dollars annually does not come close to covering costs for road upkeep.

Opponents said it is “unconscionable” for county commissioners to add to the financial strain and hardship residents now are experiencing. Instead, they would prefer the county pursue tax increment financing. Others said the county should first take steps to better manage revenues already available.

To make matters worse, critics said the local gas tax is simply piling on when you take into consideration the recent statewide fuel tax rate increases.

2017 fuel tax increase

The Montana Legislature approved a fuel tax increase three years ago to eventually raise $49 million annually for state and local roadways.

The state’s gas tax rate has since increased by 5 cents to 32 cents. Another penny increase will be phased in through 2023.

Similarly, the state’s diesel fuel rate has since increased by about 1.5 cents to 29.45 cents. Another one-half cent increase will be implemented over three years.

Supporters say that voters will make the final decision on whether to tax themselves for improved infrastructure.

They add that passage at the ballot makes a property tax increase unnecessary to cover funding needs. By collecting more tax at the pump, they said that tourist dollars could be used to help cover expenses.

It is estimated that about 40% of the revenue raised will come from visitors.

The gas tax increase approved Tuesday takes effect as early as September.

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