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Proposed gas tax increase stalls in House committee

SANTA FE – A proposal to raise New Mexico’s gas tax to pay for highway maintenance and other road work stalled in a House committee Monday, though backers said it could be brought back for consideration.

Members of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee deadlocked 7-7 on the bill, which would raise the state’s gas tax by 5 cents per gallon – to 22 cents per gallon. All seven committee Republicans voted against the measure, while all Democratic legislators present voted in favor of it. One Democratic committee member was absent.

Supporters of the legislation pointed out it would put more money into the state’s depleted road fund. There is a backlog of at least $1.5 billion in unfunded road construction needs, including bridge repairs and routine highway maintenance, according to the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

“I think we all realize our roads are in tremendously bad shape,” said Rep. Ed Sandoval, D-Albuquerque, the committee’s chairman. “We’ve got to get revenue from somewhere.”

However, the measure faces at least one obvious stumbling block: Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has vowed to oppose all tax increases during her four-year term, making it unlikely she would sign off on a gas tax increase.

One opponent of the legislation said Monday that the state could address its road maintenance needs without raising the tax on gas and special fuels.

“I don’t know that it’s appropriate for us to ask New Mexicans to pay more because we’re unwilling to prioritize the road fund over other projects,” said Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Texico.

A lobbyist from the New Mexico Petroleum Marketers Association testified Monday the proposed gas tax increase could have a negative effect on tourism and small businesses.

New Mexico currently has the nation’s eighth-lowest tax on gasoline – the national average is slightly more than 30 cents per gallon – and the nation’s 17th-lowest tax on diesel, according to an analysis of House Bill 604.

If approved, the bill would generate an estimated $70.6 million in additional tax revenue by the 2015 fiscal year, with most of that money going to the state road fund.
— This article appeared on page A3 of the Albuquerque Journal

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