Missoula County, Mont., voters to decide on local gas tax

May 4, 2020

Keith Goble

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Voters in Montana’s second-largest county soon will decide whether to institute a local gas tax to provide a boost to local transportation work.

On June 2, the state and presidential primary ballot in Missoula County will include a question to impose a 2-cent local excise tax on gas purchases. Diesel fuel would be excluded from the increase.

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

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

Pros and cons for a local gas tax

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

Opponents say 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 say the county should first take steps to better manage revenues already available.

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

In 2017, the Montana Legislature approved a fuel tax increase 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 tax 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.

If the local gas tax fails at the ballot, advocates add that property tax increases would likely be needed to cover funding needs. By collecting more tax at the pump, they say that tourist dollars could be used to help cover expenses.

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

If approved, the local gas tax increase would take effect as early as September.

All-mail voting

Gov. Steve Bullock has authorized counties throughout the state to implement all-mail voting ahead of the June primary. All counties have since decided to move forward with the balloting process.

Ballots are expected to be mailed to active voters on May 8.

“The default would be that Montanans can vote without leaving home, while the option to vote in-person remains,” Bullock wrote in his directive.

More Land Line coverage of news from Montana is available.

Keith Goble

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.