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Tribune editorial: Fuel tax hike legislation needs tune-up

Tribune editorial: Fuel tax hike legislation needs tune-up

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There’s no doubt that North Dakota needs to invest in road and bridge repairs. Research at the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University shows that counties and townships will need $9 billion in repairs over the next 20 years.

The Legislature is debating House Bill 1464, which would increase the fuels tax to help pay for the improvements. The bill originally called for an increase of 4 cents per gallon, but the House Finance and Taxation Committee voted for a 6-cent increase.

The Tribune editorial board believes it makes sense to increase the tax, but the amount of the increase is open to debate. Any increase will provide hardships to some people. Small locally owned trucking firms and small businesses that rely on vehicle fleets will feel the economic pinch. People with lower incomes who commute to work will notice the increase.

Gas prices are trending upward in the state after declining during the pandemic. Still, North Dakota needs to find a way to fund the improvements. The state Department of Transportation can get a favorable match for projects from the federal government, which eases the burden.

There are some aspects of House Bill 1464 that trouble the Tribune. The bill was amended to increase the road user fees for electric and hybrid vehicles. There’s no doubt these vehicles also create wear and tear on roads. The proposed increases, however, seem high.

The electric vehicle road use fee would go from $120 to $250 annually, the hybrid fee would increase from $50 to $150 and the electric motorcycle fee would go from $20 to $100. The increases almost seem to be an effort to discourage the use of the environmental friendly vehicles.

The Tribune believes the increases for the electric and hybrid vehicles should be reduced. Some thought also should be given to going back to the original 4-cent increase in the fuel tax. While there’s hope that the pandemic will be under control by the fall, there are no guarantees. The Legislature should be careful about the extra burden placed on the public and small businesses during the pandemic.

It’s a balancing act that means there will be some extra costs for the public. It’s also a matter of safety because crumbling roads and rickety bridges pose a hazard to motorists. One of the ways to reach the goal of zero highway deaths is to improve the infrastructure.

Fuel taxes don’t need to be the only way to fund the improvements, but the taxes need to be part of the solution.

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