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Arizona House agrees to levy new vehicle fee

To help pave and repair state roads, Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, has crafted HB 2166, a measure that would impose a new fee when people register their vehicles. (Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services, file)

To help pave and repair state roads, Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, has crafted HB 2166, a measure that would impose a new fee when people register their vehicles. (Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services, file)

PHOENIX – Arizona motorists could fund what amounts to a $120 million infusion into road construction and repairs.

On a 35-24 vote Tuesday, the House agreed to allow the Department of Transportation to levy a new fee on all vehicles sufficient to finance the $120 million annual cost of operating the Highway Patrol. Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who crafted HB 2166, has estimated that would add anywhere from $17 to $19 a year to what motorists now pay.

The bottom line, Campbell told colleagues, is protecting the Highway User Revenue Fund.

That fund, fueled by gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, is supposed to be earmarked for roads. But Campbell said some of that money is being siphoned off to pay for the Highway Patrol, meaning less money for what he said is the reason for raising those funds in the first place. His bill would reverse that.

“We’d all like to have more HURF money back for our counties,’’ he told colleagues.

In what may be a more significant change for some, HB 2166 also reduces the massive break in existing vehicle license fees that owners of electric and natural gas powered vehicles now get.

Vehicle license fees are based on a tax on 60 percent of the car or truck’s original purchase price. ADOT computes the first-year fee for a $30,000 vehicle at $504 .

The assessed value of a $30,000 alternate fuel vehicle, by contrast, is just 1 percent of its sales price. So that same vehicle pays just $12 a year in vehicle registration fees.

“That’s not enough because these vehicles are using our roads and our highways,’’ Campbell said. “And they’re not paying their fair share.’’

But it still will be cheaper to register an alternative fuel vehicle than one powered by gasoline or diesel.

Campbell said he needs the votes of Democrats to get his measure out of the House. And they are unwilling to give up on the tax incentive to buyers.

So the version of HB 2166, which now goes to the Senate, eventually will hike the vehicle registration fee for most alternative fuel passenger cars and light trucks to one-half of what it would be for a similarly prices gas- or diesel-fueled vehicle.

But heavier alternative fuel vehicles -- those weighing more than 10,000 pounds -- will be assessed at the same rate as those which run on fossil fuels after 2020.

Tuesday’s House action is the second in two days in efforts by lawmakers to deal with the fact that the 18-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax, which has not been raised since 1991, does not bring in enough to meet all of state and local road needs.

On Monday the Senate approved a measure to allow counties, with voter approval, to levy a sales tax of up to 1 percent to raise money for local road needs.