Support Local Journalism


Subscribe


HELENA—The Montana House on Friday approved a bill that would raise the state tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, but by lower amounts than the House had originally wanted.

The tax is expected to generate $28 million in fiscal 2018 and more in future years to repair dangerous state and local roads and bridges and to build new ones.

On a 61-39 vote, the House approved the Senate amendments to House Bill 473, by Rep. Frank Garner, R-Kalispell.

Garner’s original bill called for raising the gas tax by 8 cents a gallon and the diesel fuel tax by 7.75 cents a gallon, starting July 1. But a Senate extensively revised the bill to lower the proposed tax hikes.

Under the Senate amendments accepted by the House, the gas tax would rise to 4.5 cents on July 1 and gradually rise to 6 cents by fiscal 2023. The tax on diesel fuel would go up to 1.5 cents July 1 and gradually increase to 2 cents by 2023.

Montana’s current gas tax is 27 cents per gallon, while the diesel fuel tax is 27.75 cents per gallon. Montana’s fuel taxes haven’t been raised since 1993.

Garner, clearly preferring his original bill, said the Senate amendments put him a “very odd position.” Quoting from songs by the Rolling Stones, he said, “You can’t always get what you want” and “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

“But this is the way the political process works,” Garner said.

He cited statistics that Montana ranks third in highway fatalities per miles driven and that 30 percent of Montana’s roads are in poor shape.

The bill will help fund make sure the state highway funding construction account is full to attract federal funds, with $7 of federal funds matching every $1 of state funding.

He said the bill would provide state money to all 56 counties for local projects.

Garner said his bill also would provide for an audit of the state Transportation Department and require the agency to set up a website so Montanans will be able to track the spending of every dollar on every project.

Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, said he she didn’t come to Helena to raise the fuel taxes, but realized it was impossible to stop the tax hike from passing. She said she asked for the opportunity to help to lower the fuel taxes and worked with Garner to do so.

“I believe it is better for the people of Montana,” Ballance said.

One opponent, Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, said the primary advocates for the bill, the Montana Infrastructure Coalition, a group of contractors, local governments, labor unions and others, stands to benefit from it.

He questioned some of the statistics cited by Garner from the infrastructure coalition, saying he prefers to use research from groups that have no vested interest.

“This gas tax is unwarranted,” he said.

When knocking on many constituents’ doors during his legislative campaign, Rep. Dale Mortensen, R-Billings, said, “Not a one of them, not a single one, said, ‘Raise my taxes.’”

Rep. Bradley Hamlett, D-Cascade, said he supports the bill so Montanans will be driving on safer roads.

Hamlett told of a 19-year-old woman in Great Falls who died in a rollover crash after her vehicle struck a pothole in 2015.

In closing, Garner, a former Kalispell police chief who said he worked in public safety for 30 years, said he came to Helena to do something about Montana’s highways, many of which are in poor shape.

“It’s time to tell people in this state that help is on the way,” Garner said.

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.