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Economic development group backs gas tax bill

Legislation that could raise gas taxes in Clark County got another supporter Tuesday as the area’s main economic development group backed the proposal.

“This is critical to our future. I cannot stress that enough,” said Tom Skancke, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, former known as the Nevada Development Authority.

Skancke said the organization rarely backs pending legislation, but Assembly Bill 413 is different.

“It puts us on a level playing field with the rest of the state,” he said.

If passed it would allow Clark County’s commissioners to raise the local fuel tax, now 9 cents per gallon, each year and tie the increase to inflation. The tax would have to go to a vote of the people before the commission could enact it.

Every county in the state except Clark County already has that authority, though Washoe County is the only county to have done it so far.

“We’ve been at a competitive disadvantage (in Clark County) long enough,” said Glenn Christenson, the LVGEA’s chairman.

Money raised through the tax, estimated to be an additional $26 million in the first year and climbing to $85 million by the third year, would be used to fund local road projects.

The Regional Transportation Commission, Clark County, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, and the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce have supported the bill.

The RTC, the main source of funding for local roads, said revenue in its road-building fund has been declining. The gas tax was last raised in 1995 and is not tied to inflation.

The buying power of that money, about $65 million last year and $70 million the year before, has diminished over time. In addition, people are buying less fuel than they used to because cars get better mileage and the recession has lessened driving overall.

Tina Quigley, the RTC’s general manager, said the agency also has outstanding bonds to pay off.

Overall, she said, there is only about $22 million a year available now for local road projects not funded by the state or federal government.

That’s enough, she said, for a single mile of roadway in each of the local jurisdictions, one segment of the Las Vegas Beltway, or a freeway interchange.

The RTC has more than $800 million in unfunded local road projects With a new tax, the agency could immediately issue bonds and get many of those projects going.

The list includes finishing the Beltway, helping to fund the reconstruction of Interstate 15 through the heart of the city, getting started on an interstate highway to Phoenix, and remaking Maryland Parkway.

Skancke, with the economic development agency, said the tax would create tens of thousands of local construction, engineering and related jobs.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing today before the Assembly ways and Means committee.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.

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