Serving the High Plains

Raising gas tax unnecessary financial burden

Not only would a bill moving through the state House nearly triple New Mexico’s gasoline tax — despite the billions pouring into state coffers from the Permian Basin oil boom — it would dedicate just a third of that increase to roads.

It is one of the most irresponsible proposals to emerge from the 2020 legislative session.

House Bill 173 would phase in a whopping 30-cents-per-gallon surtax on gasoline by 2026, making the state’s gas tax one of the highest in the nation.

New Mexico’s current gas tax of 17 cents per gallon is 47th lowest in the nation, according to the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. Affordable fuel prices are one thing New Mexico has going for it, and this bill would squander that economic advantage for businesses and residents.

After becoming one of the most expensive states to purchase gasoline in by 2026, the bill aims even higher, increasing gas taxes each year based on a cost-of-living formula.

The forever-increasing tax would generate an estimated $314.7 million in additional revenue by 2024 on the backs of motorists who drive to work every day, and take their kids to school and doctor appointments, veterans who drive long distances for medical care, and seniors on fixed incomes.

In the fifth-largest state in land mass in the nation, this proposal would impact rural areas the hardest since those residents and businesses have to drive longer distances for daily commutes, errands and deliveries.

Moreover, just a third of the new revenues would go toward much-needed road repairs.

This is despite the New Mexico Department of Transportation requiring $103 million annually just to keep pace with road repairs — and $3 billion to catch up on all its deferred maintenance.

In addition, the bill would have a third of revenue go to a new clean infrastructure fund for amenities, such as adding more electric vehicles in the state’s fleet and constructing recharging stations, despite a distinct lack of demand in the general population.

The final third would be used for rebates for low-income New Mexicans who can ill afford the gas-tax hike, much less the sticker price of an electric car.

Supporters of the “The Next Generation Transportation Act” include high school-age students, who said during a recent hearing it’s a novel way to fund climate change efforts. If raising taxes is novel, then some of our state’s lawmakers are some true trailblazers and trendsetters.

Critics say the legislation would hurt New Mexico families and raising the gas tax is unnecessary with the state sitting on a massive budget surplus. Amen to that.

The House Taxation and Revenue Committee passed the amended bill on a straight party-line vote. It was scheduled for hearing Monday in the House Appropriations & Finance Committee. It should be garaged forevermore.

Lawmakers need to remember their state ranks near the bottom in household and per capita incomes. Raising the gas tax would be an unnecessary financial burden on all — particularly when lawmakers have an extra $797 million to spend in novel ways.

— Albuquerque Journal