Alabama tax on gas may increase

Published 8:21 am Thursday, January 7, 2016

As we have seen over the past few months, gas prices have continued to fall, but is this just a short-lived victory for the citizens of Alabama? Currently, the average Alabama price for a gallon of gas is approximately $1.76, but with the addition of this proposed tax, prices could rise to almost $1.80 or higher.

At the second special session held in September, Rep. Mac McCutcheon, chairman of the Alabama Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee, proposed a bill that would have raised gas taxes by five cents per gallon. The tax would then be adjusted up or down another two cents each year, depending on consumer prices and other factors.

According to Benjie Sanders, Crenshaw County Engineer, this increase could potentially be just the thing Crenshaw County roads need. “A gasoline tax would be huge, especially for our operating budgets. We’re struggling every day with our budget to make ends meet. There’s so much to do and our resources are so limited. To inject a good, steady revenue stream into our budget would impact the county significantly in a positive way,” said Sanders.

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If the proposed tax is passed, Sanders says that his department could potentially hire more employees, work to re-service the existing farm-to-market roads and possibly look into upgrades for some of the existing dirt roads, which stretch approximately 450 miles across Crenshaw County. Currently, 432 miles of county maintained roads are unpaved, while only 158 miles are eligible for federal aid.

Another method of roadway improvement the Crenshaw County Highway Department has sought is the help of the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP). The ATRIP was introduced by Governor Robert Bentley in 2012 as a bold infrastructure initiative aimed at investing over $1 billion into Alabama’s local roads and bridges. As a result of ATRIP’s investment plan, many counties are completing 15 to 20 years of road and bridge projects in a three to four year period.

McCutcheon has said that he is working on another proposal to be considered during the session that begins Feb. 2. The new proposal would cap the amount of tax that can be added through indexing.

Charlie Sankey, Jr., chairman of the Crenshaw County Commission, has his reservations regarding the proposed bill but does agree that something must be done to help repair the roads of Crenshaw County.

“I know the state is scrapped in general funds, but there hasn’t been a gas tax increase since the early ‘90s. It would help us on the road maintenance side, but it will put a tremendous burden on our citizens.” Sankey believes that because of the state of the roads, especially the farm-to-market roads, this tax would be beneficial in getting the funding needed for repairs, but he does not wish to add more financial expenses on the citizens of the county.

The Legislature last increased the gasoline tax in 1992, when it added five cents to raise the total state tax to 16 cents a gallon.

The issue of fund distribution based on area population has also raised many questions with this proposed bill. Regardless of how much traffic an area might receive, funds will still be distributed according to the area population rather than how frequently the filling stations are visited.

Rep. Chris Sells said there are too many uncertainties with the automatic indexing, which could lead to large increases in gasoline prices.

“I can’t support any tax that I don’t know how much it will be,” Sells said.

While Sells acknowledges that the state must figure out a way to repair the farm-to-market roads, many of which were constructed in the 1950s and do not qualify for federal funds, he isn’t convinced a fuel tax is the answer.

“There’s no question we need to find a way to fund these repairs, and maybe a fuel tax is one way we can do that, but I’m not sure what’s been proposed in the past is the answer, and unless there are some major changes to the bill, I don’t think it’s something I could support.”