Utah voters to weigh in on increasing fuel tax for education use

April 19, 2018

Keith Goble


Fresh off the heels of expanding authority to collect tolls on any state roadway, Utah lawmakers have authorized a ballot question to ask voters whether to increase fuel taxes.

The state now collects 29.4 cents per gallon on fuel purchases to help cover transportation costs. A portion of revenue from the state’s general fund – $600 million annually – is also applied to roads.

Gov. Gary Herbert has signed into law a bill to ask voters about putting money ordinarily reserved for road use instead toward education. Specifically, passage of HJR20 authorizes adding a nonbinding question to this fall’s ballot to see if voters would support a 10-cent increase in the state’s fuel tax to help cover costs to increase salaries for teachers and support staff.

A portion of new revenues would also be applied to local roads.

The governor said the revenue boost could nearly triple the amount of education spending in the state over the next five years. If enacted, the Herbert administration says the fuel tax increase would raise an estimated $125 million for education in the first year and reach $386 million in 2023.

“I believe that the people of Utah want to invest more into education,” Herbert said in prepared remarks. “And I believe that the people of Utah believe that they should pay their fair share.”

To help minimize the hit to Utah residents’ pocketbooks, state property taxes would be frozen for the next five years. In addition, personal and corporate income taxes would be lowered from 5 percent to 4.95 percent.

The ballot authorization follows passage earlier in the regular session of a bill to remove state restrictions on roads that can be tolled.

Outgoing Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said congestion issues continue to worsen around the state despite efforts over the past couple of decades to address the issue.

He told legislators during discussion on the then-bill that the state needs to start preparing now for big changes in how transportation revenue is raised. He referred to fuel tax collection as “obsolete.”

Also signed into law is a bill to overhaul how the Utah Transit Authority is run. In addition, SB136 shifts state money to transit projects, raises registration fees on alternative fuel vehicles and includes a consumer price index adjustment for vehicle registrations.

Counties that have not already adopted a local option sales tax increase up to one-quarter cent are permitted to act. The revenue from nonfood taxable sales is used for transit.

One more bill signed into law greenlights an inland port authority in the Salt Lake City area.

Previously SB234, the new law would authorize an 11-member board to move the project forward.

The proposed port would be built west of the Salt Lake City airport. The nearly 20,000 acre import/export center is planned to accommodate road, rail and air cargo.

“I introduced the idea of creating an international inland port in Utah as a way to further elevate our state as a global business destination,” Herbert stated. “Today, the state of Utah takes a major step forward to transform itself … as we create the governance structure for a major global trade and distribution hub.”

To view other legislative activities of interest for Utah, click here.