A panel of North Dakota business and state officials wrestled with whether the state should increase its gas tax to maintain infrastructure Tuesday.
The panel convened as part of the Greater North Dakota Chamber's annual policy summit in Bismarck. The discussion came months after lawmakers rejected legislation seeking to raise the gas tax, which supporters said would help the state keep up with billions of dollars in infrastructure funding needs in the coming years.
Kimberly Bonhart, vice president of state government affairs for package shipper UPS, pitched increasing the "user fee" as an investment to ensure the state's roads and bridges can continue to facilitate the safe movement of goods and people. She said lack of road funding can cause congestion, which imposes huge costs on her company.
"Until we make sure that citizens understand, companies understand why it is important, we're going to always have pushback," she said in an interview.
North Dakota's 23-cents-per-gallon gas tax hasn't been raised since 2005, and the federal tax of 18.4-cents-per-gallon hasn't increased since 1993.
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North Dakota lawmakers this year agreed to impose new fees on owners of electric and hybrid vehicles to make up for lost gas tax revenue. But the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Doug Burgum have been opposed to raising taxes.
Mike Rud, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association, said raising the gas tax would reduce consumers' disposable income, which could affect other businesses. Rud also represents the state's retail association.
"I don't think there's anything that stirs up people more than seeing the price of gas go up," he said.
Chamber President and CEO Arik Spencer said his organization hasn't taken a formal stance on a gas tax increase.
"We recognize something needs to be done; it's just a matter of finding out what's the right solution," he said. "We're going to do a deep dive into this conversation."