State seeks gas tax hike

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Heavy traffic travels in both directions Thursday on Kawili Street in Hilo.

Measures introduced in both the state House and Senate this week would increase gas taxes and other vehicle fees to generate additional money for the State Highway Fund.

House Bill 1054 and its companion, Senate Bill 1280, passed first reading in both chambers Thursday.

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If approved, the proposed legislation would increase the state gas tax from 16 cents to 21 cents per gallon on Hawaii Island and other neighbor islands, and to 22 cents on Oahu.

The legislation, which was proposed by Gov. David Ige’s administration, also would increase annual vehicle registration fees by $5 — from $45 to $50 — and increase tax rates for each gallon of diesel oil, as well as gasoline or other aviation fuel used for airplanes, by 1 cent.

The state vehicle weight tax also would increase. Those rates depend on the weight of the vehicle.

District 4 Sen. Lorraine Inouye, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, could not be reached for comment by deadline.

The proposed increases could impact local businesses.

Harolene Mendonsa, owner of Ace 1 Taxi in Hilo, said any increase in gas prices would hurt her business and drivers.

“For me, yes, any amount of gas that goes up hurts us badly because (drivers are) not my employees,” she said. “They use my vans at Ace 1 to go out and work, but they pay their own gas.”

The company is one of several that participates in the Hawaii County Mass Transit Agency’s shared ride taxi program, which allows participants to purchase taxi coupons for cab rides in and around Hilo.

According to information included with the bill, highway systems have not kept pace with the growing economy, land use and increased demands for travel.

“Programmatic and project needs far exceed the available resources,” a justification sheet attached to the bill reads.

“The land transportation system will continue to deteriorate as demand for travel continues to increase and costs to manage, construct and administer the system increases.”

As fuel economy of vehicles improves and the use of electric, hybrid and alternative-fuel vehicles increase, “it is clear that the current gas fuel tax is not sustainable for future highway funding,” the document states.

According to information provided by the state Department of Transportation, an increase of 5 cents per gallon of gas would raise an extra $27.2 million in revenue.

The proposed change to the vehicle weight tax is expected to generate an additional $10.12 million in revenue, while higher registration fees will generate nearly $5.6 million, for a total of $42.9 million in additional funds, the DOT said.

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Of those funds, figures provided by the DOT estimate that Hawaii Island would receive $1.25 million for safety improvements, $2.38 million for operations, and $5.5 million for improvements in both fiscal year 2020 and 2021 — a total of $9.13 million each year.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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