tampabay.com

Gas tax hike beats higher impact fees

By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published April 26, 2007


When it comes to finding new ways to pay for new roads, Pasco commissioners are sticking to an old method: foisting much of the bill on owners of new homes.

Impact fees are a tried-and-true way to pay for road construction. Tuesday marked the fifth time since 1986 that commissioners voted to increase the transportation fees intended to make growth help pay for additional demands for services. The cost beginning Oct. 1 will be $9,500 for a single-family home, a 125 percent increase over the current fee of $4,200.

Commissioners correctly skipped an advisory panel's recommendation to set aside $25-million from property taxes over the next five years to help foot the road construction bill. That was unrealistic given the climate in Tallahassee to reduce local property tax bills.

Unfortunately, commissioners also bypassed any discussion of increasing the local gasoline tax. A nickel-per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax is projected to produce $55-million over the next five years. A mix of a higher gas tax and higher impact fees is a prudent way to help close a $950-million shortfall in the county's road-building plans.

It is understandable commissioners would be reluctant to engage in a debate over a higher tax at the same time the price of gasoline is near $2.85 for a gallon of regular unleaded. But, commissioners historically duck this scenario no matter what the price at the pump. Commissioner Pat Mulieri helped kill a proposed 2-cent increase in the gas tax five years ago - to pave dirt roads - when the price of gas was less than $1.35 a gallon, and a previous board buried a proposed 1-cent increase in 1998 when a gallon of gas was dropping below a dollar.

Commissioners did approve a 1-cent increase in 2002 for maintenance and street lights, but Pasco has never passed a portion of the local-option gas tax the state allows counties to charge for road infrastructure.

Now would have been an appropriate time to debate that option in light of the rising costs for raw materials that have ballooned the price of building roads. The county's $218-million road construction fund will be exhausted by the end of next year with $53-million needed to complete the work planned for the next two years. Coincidentally, that is roughly the same amount the county could count on if it adopted the higher gasoline tax for a five-year period.

Though a 5-cent gasoline tax would produce only a tenth of what new impact fees may generate, it remains desirable because it provides a steady source of income. Much of the analysis on the higher impact fees used rosy projections of at least 4,000 permits being issued by the county annually even though Pasco is on pace to produce just 2,800 this year.

Come July, county staffers will present the commission with its final list of road construction projects recommended for delay. Commissioners should consider then if the short shrift they gave to a new gasoline tax is an appropriate service to motorists stuck in long lines of traffic.