CARSON CITY -- The $1 billion in road funding approved by the Legislature bought a little breathing room, Assembly Transportation Chairman Kelvin Atkinson said.
But in two years, when the 2009 Legislature convenes, he expects lawmakers will resume debating how to raise the $4 billion to $5 billion in highway money needed to keep traffic moving.
"We are going to have to do something again next session," Atkinson said Wednesday. "We need to make adjustments, so we don't have a crisis over road funding every session. You can't just keep shifting around fees. Somebody has to pony up."
A transportation task force recommended last year that the Legislature find $3.8 billion to build 10 highway projects, seven of which are in Clark County, between 2008 and 2015. Because of increases in costs of asphalt and other materials, the total has risen to $5 billion and will keep rising, state Transportation Director Susan Martinovich said.
By 2009, she said recently, $800,000 could be added to the costs.
Martinovich said proposals that failed to gain traction with the Legislature this year -- such as new trucking taxes, toll roads and adjustments in the gasoline tax -- probably will be debated again in 2009.
"Even though the governor is committed (to not raise taxes), it still might be something to bring people to the table to discuss," Martinovich said.
Gov. Jim Gibbons said Wednesday that he plans to continue his no-new-taxes pledge in the next session.
"We are going to work very hard to keep that promise to the people," he said. "I know there are people out there who want taxes raised. We have shown them how to do it without taxes."
To raise the $1 billion for road building, Gibbons helped negotiate Assembly Bill 595 to divert existing room taxes, county property taxes and rental car fees to a state highway construction fund. The taxes produce enough revenue each year to finance $1 billion in bonds.
But Atkinson said he is not interested in raising taxes on everyday citizens, but taxing the trucking industry will be among the proposals discussed in 2009.
"Industries, like trucking, should be wanting to participate (in paying) for the damage they cause to roads," he said. "It isn't the 1990 Honda Civic that causes the problem. It is the $75,000 and $100,000 big rigs."
During the session, Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, said that at least six Transportation Department studies found the trucking industry does not pay enough to cover the damage it causes to roads.
Atkinson's committee backed a 15-cents-per-mile weight-distance tax on trucks, a proposal that would have raised $1.3 billion over the next eight years. The plan never came up for a vote in the full Assembly.
Paul Enos, executive director of the Nevada Motor Transport Association, said throughout the session that the trucking industry pays its fair share, contributing 38 percent of the highway taxes and fees while driving 8 percent of the total miles.
Gibbons ignored pleas from Coffin last weekend to lift his no-new-taxes pledge when it came to trucks. The senator said the average citizen pays 33 cents per gallon in state and local gasoline taxes, while trucks pay 27 cents per gallon in diesel taxes.
"When government increases a tax, there are always unintended consequences," Gibbons said Wednesday. "When you increase transportation costs, you pay more for every service, for everything you buy in a store."
But if equalizing fuel taxes is the aim, Gibbons said, voters should decide whether they want to lower the taxes they pay for gasoline by 6 cents a gallon instead of raising the diesel tax.
"Let's equalize the tax rates by lowering gas taxes, so we all are paying our fair share."