Gas taxes: Bill gives voters final say on road funding

What’s more unpopular than a rush-hour traffic jam? The taxes that pay for the projects needed to relieve highway congestion.

Fuel taxes cover the bulk of Nevada’s major road improvements. Because of increasing vehicle fuel efficiency and rising costs in construction materials, fuel tax revenues haven’t kept up with Southern Nevada’s growing list of infrastructure needs. If we want to spend less time in traffic, have more time with family and friends, and make commerce more efficient — to say nothing of making travel easier for tourists — we have to come up with more money to expand highway capacity.

The idea of paying even more for gasoline is maddening. But so is being stuck in traffic.

Assembly Bill 413 goes a long way toward paying for the region’s most critical road improvement projects, including the completion of the Las Vegas Beltway to highway standards, Interstate 15 upgrades, the Boulder City bypass and Interstate 11 corridor improvements, and local street widening. It had bipartisan support, passing the state Senate 17-3 and the Assembly 34-7.

AB413 would allow the Clark County Commission to increase the county’s 9-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax by 3 cents beginning in January, then index additional increases through 2016 to inflation. A simple majority vote by commissioners would not authorize the increases. AB413 requires the support of five of the commission’s seven members to approve the tax hike.

Then, in 2016, Clark County voters would get a say on the tax. Angela Castro, manager of government affairs and media relations for the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, said a vote in favor of the question would continue indexed increases for an additional 10 years, while a vote against the issue would end the tax.

The bill also puts the state’s 17.65-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax on the 2016 ballot. Voters would decide whether to index to inflation annual increases in that tax for 10 years.

If voters approved either tax increase, they would then be asked to reauthorize them or end them in 2026.

We are not fans of indexed tax increases. They aren’t predictable. Precise tax increases would have been better policy. But lawmakers made the right call in amending AB413 to let voters decide the fate of these tax increases. Clark County voters previously have supported sales tax increases to pay for road and transit improvements, including the accelerated construction of the beltway. Try to imagine what life in the valley would be like without that loop.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has promised to veto any legislation that increases taxes, beyond bills that extend temporary state tax hikes and boost Clark County’s sales tax rate to bolster local police budgets. He should exempt AB413 from his vow as well.

AB413 is vital to Southern Nevada’s economy and quality of life. Gov. Sandoval should sign it.