County officials scrutinize cost to motorists of proposed fuel tax hike

If proposed fuel tax increases for Clark County go into place, transportation officials have figures that they want budget-watching residents to remember.

For the average driver, the first year of the proposed fuel tax increase would cost about $16.35. By the third year, that will have risen to $51.95 a year.

County commissioners heard those figures Tuesday in a presentation from the Regional Transportation Commission about a potential fuel tax increase to pay for road and highway projects. The increases, if approved, would be about 3 cents each year for the next three years, based on inflation.

The estimates are based on how much someone drives. In the example given by Tina Quigley, manager of the transportation agency, it’s for a driver who travels 13,500 miles a year, pumping 539 gallons into a vehicle that gets 25 miles a gallon.

Commissioners have until Oct. 1 to make a decision. The new tax, if approved, would has start in January 2014. The revenue would give the transportation commission the ability to take out $700 million to $800 million in bonds for projects, which would then be paid back with the future tax revenues.

Without the gas tax revenue, Quigley said, the commission would have just $22.4 million a year at its disposal, only enough for a mile of roadway or one interchange in each city and the county.

She also pointed to the economic benefits — nearly 10,000 in direct and indirect jobs.

Commissioner Susan Brager said it’s important for residents to understand the impact and costs.

“For me, I figured it would be about maybe 12 cents a day, but that’s extraordinary driving,” she said, noting that she travels throughout her district.

Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said he has heard concerns from independently owned gas stations in Laughlin about the impact of the tax, due to the town’s proximity to neighboring Arizona, where motorists already go for cheaper gas. Sisolak also is concerned because the tax would have a deeper impact on people such as college students with inexpensive vehicles and higher mileage and less on those with hybrid vehicles.

“It just doesn’t seem fair to me,” he said.

The proposal has strong backing from the construction industry and its labor unions. Tom Morley, political director of the Laborers Local 872, spoke in favor of the proposal, saying it would help the economy. The AFL-CIO issued on Tuesday announced a broad coalition of nearly 60 businesses, labor, nonprofit and community groups in support of the measure.

“Some of our members are the largest consumers of fuel in the valley,” said Sean Stewart, executive vice president of the Nevada Contractors Association and the Las Vegas chapter of Associated General Contractors. “... We’re in support of this measure and we hope you will give it consideration.”

The county’s existing fuel tax is 9 cents. Each gallon pumped has 52.2 cents of total taxes and fees in it, which includes the county’s tax and federal and state taxes.

If the fuel tax increase is put in place, residents would vote in November 2016 on whether they want to authorize commissioners to enact additional fuel tax increases. However, if voters reject additional fuel tax increases, the increases put in place for the first three years would remain intact.

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at or 702-405-9781.