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12:26 AM Mon, Jan. 21st

Senate votes to allow Department of Transportation to levy vehicle fees

The Arizona Senate wants to give the ADOT director the power to raise fees to fund the Department of Public Safety. photo

The Arizona Senate wants to give the ADOT director the power to raise fees to fund the Department of Public Safety.

PHOENIX – It could soon cost more to register your car or truck in Arizona.

On a 17-13 vote Monday, the Senate gave final approval to allow the director of the Department of Transportation to levy a fee on each vehicle.

But HB 2261, already approved by the House, does not spell out how much that fee would be. Instead, it tells the agency chief to raise enough to fund the Highway Patrol and a little bit more for good margin.

Legislative budget analysts say the amount ADOT would need to raise is $148.9 million. And that translates out to $18.06 for every vehicle, above and beyond the normal registration fee.

The measure, which now goes to the governor, also will mean a sharp hike in the minimal fee now imposed on those who purchase alternate fuel vehicles. Beginning in 2020, the levy will be based on the price of the vehicle, just as it is now for cars and trucks powered by fossil fuels.

The legislation – and the decision to leave the fee up to the ADOT director – is the culmination of a multi-year effort to find new dollars to help build new roads and repair existing ones.

That is supposed to be financed largely through the gasoline tax. But that 18-cent-a-gallon levy has not been raised since 1991 when gasoline was in the $1.20-a-gallon range.

And while there are more vehicles on the road, they also are more fuel efficient, with the number of road miles driven – and the wear and tear on the roads – increasing faster than new revenues.

What’s made matters worse is that current and former governors and lawmakers, looking to balance the budget, have siphoned off some of those gas tax revenues to pay for the Highway Patrol. Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, said that has left fewer dollars for both urban and rural transportation needs.

And given the unwillingness of lawmakers to hike the gas tax, Worsley said funding the Highway Patrol out of a fee on all vehicles using the roads seemed to be the most politically palatable.