Tuesday, November 23, 1999

Few takers for raising gas tax

Patton's proposal a hard sell

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Gov. Paul Patton is going to find a bumpy and possibly impassable road when he tries to steer a gas tax increase through the Kentucky General Assembly early next year.

        According to Rep. Paul Marcotte, R-Union, he and 45 other Kentucky lawmakers have signed pledges promising never to vote for a tax increase.

        “A fairly large number of legislators have signed the pledge, so I question whether the governor will have the votes to increase the gas tax,” Mr. Marcotte said Monday.

        “I know I'm not voting for it.”

        Mr. Marcotte said 16 of the Senate's 38 members and 30 House members have signed the pledge, which is promoted by a Washington-based government spending watchdog group called Americans for Tax Reform.

        The group asks members of Congress and state lawmakers to sign. “I haven't seen any bill or proposal on how this money will be spent; but right off the top of my head, I'd have to say I'm not going to vote for any new taxes,” said Sen. Dick Roeding, R-Lakeside Park, who is expected to be elected president pro tem of the Senate when the legislature convenes Jan. 4.

        “And I don't think something like that is going to pass.”

        Mr. Patton said an increase in Kentucky's 16.4 cents a gallon gas tax is needed for the state road fund, which is projected to be $600 million short over the next six years.

        That means many road repair, maintenance and construction projects won't get done unless new money is generated, Mr. Patton said last week.

        “I'm for building roads,” Mr. Patton told the Associated Press. “I think we need more money. I think the preferable place to get it is with the gas tax because out-of-state people pay a third of that.”

        Mr. Patton floated the idea of a gas tax increase during his re-election campaign this year. With the election behind him, Mr. Patton has proposed a 7-cent increase in the tax. He has not said if he has a lawmaker willing to sponsor a bill increasing the tax.

        Kentucky's tax of 16.4 cents is the 46th lowest in the nation. The gas tax is 22 cents in Ohio and 18.6 cents in Indiana.

        A 7-cent per gallon increase would raise almost $200 million a year.

        House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, said the legislature has two options:

        “We can cut back on the road fund, but that would take projects out of the six-year road plan,” Mr. Callahan said. “But no one wants that, because that would take road projects out of their area.

        “Or we come up with a new revenue stream, and to do that we would have to raise the gas tax,” he said. “There aren't a whole lot of choices here.”

        There are several Northern Kentucky road projects in the six-year road plan, the long-range planning document the state uses for road projects.

        While it is not yet known what projects would be eliminated if the legislature fails to approve more money, Mr. Callahan said some local projects could be cut.

        But Mr. Marcotte and Mr. Roeding said Northern Kentucky road projects should get priority using existing funds because the region sends more tax dollars to Frankfort than it gets back.

        “Boone County only gets about 30 cents back on the dollar, and it's about 50 cents in Campbell and Kenton counties,” Mr. Roeding said. “We have to support our growth areas like Northern Kentucky because we're an engine driving the economy all over the state.

        “If we start to slow down because we can't fix or build our roads, then the whole state slows down,” he said.

        Mr. Callahan said he is undecided on the call to increase the tax, but he said the recent rise in gasoline prices will make the proposal a harder sell.

        “Increasing this tax won't have an easy time in Frankfort,” he predicted.

        State Rep. Jon Draud said if he were asked now, he would vote “no” on increasing the tax.

        “But I need a lot more informa tion before I can make a decision like that,” he said. “Certainly, the timing is bad because of the rising cost of petroleum. I just paid $1.55 a gallon at one gas station.

        “Still, it's way too early to make a final decision on this. I'll wait until we're down in Frankfort and I know what I'm talking about and voting on.”


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