House Bill 473 would impose the first increase to Montana’s gas tax increase since the early 1990s, when the tax was raised to the current charge of 27 cents per gallon.
The new tax proposed by the House, in March, calls for an additional 8 cent tax increase per gallon of gas. But that was too high for the Senate. So, this week the Senate passed a compromise: 4.5 cents per gallon, going up to 6 cents by 2023.
Senator Duane Ankney, a Republican from Colstrip, carried the gas tax bill on the Senate floor, arguing against other members of his party who said this tax increase would hurt poor Montanans:
"If you don't have good roads, you tear your rig up. I think in the long run this is going to save us lives, number one, and it's going to save our equipment from very expensive maintenance," Ankney said.
The Senate rejected two amendments for a lower gas tax increase, and to sunset it in 4 years allowing lawmakers to reevaluate the need for it later sessions.
Senator Dee Brown from Hungry Horse told the Senate that this tax, even though it’s lower than what the House proposed, isn’t fair to people on low incomes:
"The people who aren't here speaking against this bill are our constituents. Remember those people who are working at home, who are working for minimum wage, remember that they’re not being able to afford an electric car. Who are we punishing here?"
The gas tax bill will now head back to the House. It’s sponsor there, Frank Garner, a Republican from Kalispell, says he expects it to pass.
As the bill currently stands, it would raise an estimated $37 million its first year and $49 million by 2023 for highway road construction projections.