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House panel blocks higher gasoline tax

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Anya Muller, 16, left, Tabatha Hirsch, 18, both Santa Fe High School students, speak in support of a bill by Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, that would increase the tax on gas. Dozens of people spoke for and against the bill in House Appropriations and Finance Committee at the Capitol on Monday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Legislators on a key House committee rejected a proposal Monday that called for sharply increasing the gasoline tax as part of an effort to reduce pollution and improve New Mexico’s roads.

The proposal would have raised about $300 million in new revenue a year – with the proceeds split among road improvements, investments in “clean” transportation projects and tax rebates to help low-income New Mexicans.

It would have been phased in over time, eventually pushing the gas tax from 17 cents a gallon to 47 cents.

Members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee voted 14-1 to table the bill, a procedure that prevented it from advancing to the full House for consideration.

The vote came after about 75 teenagers turned out to urge lawmakers to support the measure as a way combat climate change. Waiting to take action, they said, would require even more drastic steps to protect New Mexico from the effects of rising temperatures.

“I believe this bill will help move New Mexico to a cleaner future,” said Angelina Miller, an 18-year-old from Santa Fe. “Now is the time to act.”

But ranchers and business groups opposed to the legislation said the gasoline tax would fall hardest on rural residents who don’t have the option of taking a bus or walking to work.

“The people I represent drive over 100 miles to get their groceries,” said Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland. “This would be a big burden upon them.”

His district covers parts of the Navajo Nation in far northwestern New Mexico.

New Mexico’s gas tax – 17 cents a gallon – hasn’t been increased since 1993 and is one of the lowest in the region, legislative analysts said.

The proposal, House Bill 173, called for adding a 30-cent surtax, phased in through 2025.

Rep. Matthew McQueen, a Galisteo Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said the proposed tax rebate was an important part of the legislation. A gas tax is typically regressive, he said, but the rebate would have provided relief to low-income residents.

Nonetheless, opponents questioned the need for new taxes amid the oil boom in southeastern New Mexico, which has pushed state revenue levels to new heights.

Given the budget surplus, “there is no reason to raise taxes,” said Ashley Wagner, manager of public policy and communications for the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry.


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