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Local governments want share of motor fuel increase

Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- Local governments maintain nearly half of the state's roads and should get a portion of the motor fuel tax increase proposed by Gov. Frank Murkowski, said a group representing municipalities.

The Alaska Municipal League is seeking support from House budget writers on a plan to give towns and cities 31 percent of the state's gas tax.

It would lessen the cuts in state aid to municipalities and build public support for a 150 percent hike in the state's 8-cent per gallon motor fuel tax, said Kevin Ritchie, league executive director.

''When a person goes to the pump and pays a tax, they want to know the roads they drive on are going to be maintained,'' Ritchie said.

Murkowski is seeking legislative approval of a 12-cent hike in the tax as a means of raising an additional $41.1 million for state coffers.

The state currently collects between $25 million and $28 million annually in motor fuel taxes. If approved, the governor's proposal would increase that to an estimated $69 million in two years.

Alaska Municipal League officials, who represent about 161 cities and boroughs, propose sending about $21 million to local governments for road maintenance.

There is more than 25,400 miles of roads in Alaska and local governments maintain about 44 percent of those, Ritchie said.

Murkowski's budget also is proposing about a $7.5 million cut in municipal assistance in next year's budget, and this proposal would lessen the impact, Ritchie said. ''This would be significantly adding back to that money,'' Ritchie said.

Ritchie testified before the House Finance Committee on Monday as it considered drastic changes to the governor's bill.

Earlier, the House Transportation Committee -- reacting to complaints that Murkowski's proposal will not mean new money for roads -- offered its own rewrite of the bill.

House Bill 156 would currently require a constitutional amendment be approved by voters in 2004 to establish a special highway fund.

State Revenue Commissioner Bill Corbus testified against that version of the bill, arguing it would delay revenues to the state for at least two years. If voters approved the constitutional amendment in the general election, the measure would bring in only $17 million in fiscal 2005, Corbus said.

''Revenues are necessary now to address the state's fiscal deficit,'' Corbus said.

Murkowski proposed about $120 million in tax and fee measures to help balance the state budget next year. The motor fuel tax increase is a critical part of that proposal, Corbus said.

The administration has not taken a position on the Alaska Municipal League proposal, governor's spokesman John Manly said.

Ritchie said the governor's office has not endorsed the plan, but has also not rejected it.

''Our point is that the public ultimately has to think this is a good idea, and it just goes to reason if the money is given to municipalities ... it would be spent on local roads,'' Ritchie said.



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