Pro-business group: Raise gas taxes for highway projects

Prices for gasoline near $4.00 per gallon at this station on Blue Diamond Road Thursday, April 14, 2011.

A pro-business group working to diversify Southern Nevada’s economy is advocating legislation that would lead to a gasoline tax increase.

The Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance — formerly the Nevada Development Authority — announced today that it is backing Assembly Bill 413, legislation that would enable the Clark County Commission to raise gasoline taxes based on increases in several economic indices.

While the alliance’s board is advocating passage of the indexing bill, it took no position on separate legislation, Senate Bill 377, to increase the tax by 2 cents a gallon on a variety of fuels, such as diesel, at the beginning of each calendar year from 2014 through 2023.

Skancke said his organization would consider reviewing other legislation to increase transportation funding, but the indexing bill is the only one that would reliably increase revenue enough to make necessary transportation improvements.

Clark County is the only county in the state that isn’t allowed to index fuel taxes, because the original legislation was drafted to give the option to counties with populations of less than 400,000.

State and county transportation leaders and the Regional Transportation Commission say there are millions of dollars in projects that would be unfunded as a result of a lack of revenue.

Fuel tax revenue has steadily declined as vehicles become more fuel efficient and more alternative-fuel vehicles are on the roads.

Tom Skancke, president and CEO of the LVGEA; Glenn Christenson, chairman of the LVGEA board; and Missy Young, executive vice president of Switch Communications, addressed a news conference about the organization’s support of the legislation, which is expected to be considered in an Assembly committee hearing on Thursday.

In addition to explaining the need for revenue to expand transportation options to further the region’s economic diversification goals, the LVGEA leaders characterized the bill as a job creator and necessary for fairness, as Southern Nevada competes with the rest of the state and region for infrastructure to help build the economy.

The Clark County Commission and the Regional Transportation Commission support the indexing bill.

If the legislation is approved, the indexing proposal would face a public vote and then it would be up to the County Commission to increase the fuel tax rate.

Historically, the LVGEA and the Nevada Development Authority have not take positions on pending legislation, but Skancke said the bill is so important to the organization achieving its goals that its board voted to advocate passage.

“If Southern Nevada is going to excel in a global economy, we must expand our connection points, both at home and around the world.” Skancke said. “We also connect to the world in our public infrastructure.”

Skancke said improving transportation would provide jobs in retail, tourism, administration and manufacturing, as well as design, engineering and construction.

“We can’t create that logistics and good movement economy if we don’t have a vital transportation infrastructure system to deliver the goods and services that economy needs,” he said.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that for every $1 billion in transportation infrastructure funded, 37,500 direct and indirect jobs are created, he said.

Southern Nevada has about $4 billion in unfunded transportation projects, including the completion of the Las Vegas Beltway; the development of Project Neon, a traffic-relieving system of high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstate 15 between the Spaghetti Bowl and Sahara Avenue; the planned Interstate 11 project between Phoenix and Las Vegas; and a Maryland Parkway transportation plan to improve the traffic flow between downtown Las Vegas and McCarran International Airport.

Skancke said the LVGEA is asking the business community to encourage legislators to approve the bill and the organization also plans to lobby lawmakers.