Gas tax increase wins final approval in Nebraska Legislature

By GRANT SCHULTE

Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to a proposed gas tax increase despite a veto threat by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

The 26-15 vote wouldn’t be sufficient to override a veto, but the bill’s sponsor has said it would have at least the 30 votes needed for an override, if needed. Eight senators abstained from voting Thursday.

The bill would raise the state gas tax by 6 cents over four years to help pay for road and bridge repairs. The measure would generate an estimated $76 million a year once fully implemented.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, a conservative who normally opposes tax increases. Smith cast the measure as a “user fee” for motorists and argued that good roads promote economic growth.

Ricketts has said lawmakers are wrong to throw tax dollars at the problem and suggested that the state should look at other options.

The Republican governor urged lawmakers give his new state roads director, Kyle Schneweis, a chance to study alternatives to paying for road upgrades.

Smith has argued that the statewide need has grown too large to address without additional revenue. In a report last year, the Department of Roads identified $10.2 billion in projects it says are needed over the next 20 years.

Groups that lobbied against the higher tax expressed disappointment with the vote.

“It’s truly disheartening to see that Nebraska’s elected officials refuse to listen to their constituents and voted to raise taxes,” said Matt Litt, state director of Americans for Prosperity Nebraska. “A gas tax hike doesn’t only hurt Nebraskans at the pump, but in a variety of areas in daily life.”

Other opponents have said the tax increase will disproportionately affect the poor because many spend a larger proportion of their incomes on gas.

Nebraska’s gas was the 26th most expensive nationally because of its taxes and fees as of Jan. 1, according to the American Petroleum Institute. In March, the state’s gas tax fell behind Iowa’s for the first time in decades after a new gas tax went into effect there.

Nebraska’s share of Federal Highway Trust money has fallen faster than the national average in the five-year period that ended in 2013, the last year for which numbers were available. The state saw a 5.2 percent drop while funding for all states fell by 3.5 percent.

Nebraska has more than 100,000 miles of roads and 20,000 bridges, mostly owned by counties and cities. Roughly 10,000 miles of road and 3,500 bridges belong to the state.

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