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7:20 AM Thu, Dec. 13th

Gas tax moving forward in state legislature

Chris Hammontree, left, and Michael Morin, both of Kingman, gassed up in September at Safeway.

Photo by Bob Leal.

Chris Hammontree, left, and Michael Morin, both of Kingman, gassed up in September at Safeway.

PHOENIX – State lawmakers took the first steps Wednesday to asking voters to hike what they pay every time they fill up their cars and trucks.

On a 7-1 margin, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved a measure to place a dime-a-gallon hike in the state’s gasoline tax on the 2018 ballot. If approved by voters, it would be the first hike in the current 18-cent tax since 1991.

HCR 2011 would also impose a similar increase on the 26-cent tax paid by heavy duty diesel trucks.

“Nobody likes the three-letter word,’’ said Rep. Drew John, R-Safford. But he said all of his constituents realize there is a problem with the condition of Arizona roads due to the lack of funding.

Mike Racy, who lobbies for everyone from Pima County to Tucson-based developer Diamond Ventures, told lawmakers the situation is critical.

“The decaying infrastructure around the state, especially outside of Maricopa County, has reached crisis proportions,’’ he said.

Tony Bradley, president of the Arizona Trucking Association, estimated that his members lose more than $500 million a year in this state alone in congestion delays. And that’s just part of the problem caused by roads in poor quality.

“The maintenance costs are almost unquantifiable,’’ he said.

And David Martin, president of the Arizona chapter of Associated General Contractors said Arizona’s rural roads are the fifth deadliest in the nation, a statistic he attributes to their condition.

Even Rep. Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, who voted against HCR 2011, said he does not question the pressing needs – and the need for higher taxes. He said Arizona’s 18-cent levy is far below the national average of 31 cents.

But Mosley said he wants a more permanent solution than the dime-a-gallon hike – and the need to go back to voters for future increases. He wants the levy to be indexed so that it increases with the price of fuel.

And Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who chairs the committee, also pointed out that state lawmakers have agreed in prior years to “sweep’’ some of the revenues from road-construction and maintenance needs to instead fund the state Department of Public Safety. That maneuver frees up general tax revenues for other priorities. In fact, the budget for the coming year proposed by Gov. Doug Ducey proposes an $89 million shift.