Vehle to propose tax, fee hikes for roadsState Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, will try to raise the state’s gas tax and two other fees to pay for road maintenance. Vehle said this week he is preparing a package of bills to increase the gas tax 3 cents in 2011 and three cents in 2013. It’s currently 22 cents and would go to 25 cents in 2011 and 28 cents in 2013 if Vehle’s bill is approved.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
State Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, will try to raise the state’s gas tax and two other fees to pay for road maintenance.
Vehle said this week he is preparing a package of bills to increase the gas tax 3 cents in 2011 and three cents in 2013. It’s currently 22 cents and would go to 25 cents in 2011 and 28 cents in 2013 if Vehle’s bill is approved.
“Part now and part in two years,” he said.
The 2011 legislative session starts Jan. 11 at the Capitol in Pierre.
During the 2010 legislative session, Vehle introduced a bill to raise the tax, but it failed. “It didn’t have the support it needed,” he said.
The state’s gas tax, which Vehle prefers to call a “motor fuel user fee,” hasn’t been increased since 1999. License-plate fees also haven’t been hiked for 12 years, he said.
Plates for his 2006 Buick cost about $42, Vehle said. Putting plates on the same car in North Dakota would cost about $93, he said, and Minnesota and Nebraska charge much more. Vehle said the proposed South Dakota increase would bump registration fees $9 by July 1, 2011, for vehicles weighing 2,000 to 4,000 pounds and by $17.50 for vehicles weighing between 4,000 and 6,000 pounds. Those same increases would be repeated in 2013, he said.
The excise tax on vehicles is at 3 percent, and he will propose a two-part increase in 2011 and 2013 to take it to 4 percent.
“I think that we’ve got to maintain our asset that we have in our roads and to find funding to do that,” he said. “I think it’s extremely important that we keep our roads in good shape.”
Vehle will have a louder voice on the issue than most legislators. He will once again be chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, a post he has held for the last two years. Vehle asked to be re-appointed to the post and was named to it by Senate President Pro Tem Bob Gray, of Pierre.
Vehle has a quick answer for those who say this isn’t the right time to find more revenue for roads: “Don’t expect the roads to be in good shape.”
Roads in poor condition may lead to accidents and damage to vehicles that will cost far more than minor fee increases, he said.
Vehle also said it’s worth noting how much it costs to maintain roads. He said maintaining roads, based on their current condition, costs:
* $800 per mile per year for excellent condition;
* $1,700 per mile per year for good condition;
* and $2,400 per mile per year for fair condition.
“So, by allowing the roads to deteriorate, you’re just passing that increased cost on to the next generation to use it,” he said.
Gas tax revenue goes to the state and is used for maintenance and other road-related needs, including snow plowing and construction, Vehle said. Some is also used to match federal funds for construction and reconstruction, he said.
The revenue from license plates goes to townships, towns, cities and counties.
The Legislature doesn’t determine what roads to build or maintain, he said. The South Dakota Highway Department studies needs across the state and prepares a five-year plan for construction and reconstruction.
Vehle said a pair of studies by the Highway Department show the number of poor roads in the state will increase dramatically in the next decade without proper funding for maintenance.
“That’s going to be one of our tasks, to see if we can get folks to agree we need to give sufficient funds to our roads,” he said. “There’s more people realizing that every year.”
Vehle said he feels the issue deserves an open and blunt discussion. All funding choices must be on the table, in the senator’s view.
“I’m not trying to pit any one piece of government against any other one,” he said. “What if we hadn’t increased funding for K-12 since 1999?”
Vehle said he expects bills that would ban texting while driving or allowing only hands-free cell calls to be introduced.
“I can’t say for sure they’ll get assigned to my committee or not,” he said.
Vehle is one of two Mitchell legislators who have landed leadership roles. Rep. Lance Carson, R-Mitchell, will serve as vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Carson said he was pleasantly surprised by the appointment, which was made by Speaker Val Rausch, of Big Stone City.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of work to do. The Appropriations Committee, Dean Wink is going to be the chairman. We work well together,” Carson said. “Money situation’s not going to be good this year, but we will work through it.”
Carson will also be chairman of the Government Operations and Audit Committee.
He turned 65 Friday and is in Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo, where committees members will hire performers for the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo and Bull Bash.
All leaders and chairmen are Republicans, since the GOP holds overwhelming majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
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