Senate leaders eye gas tax hike | CraigDailyPress.com

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Senate leaders eye gas tax hike

DENVER (AP) Senate Democrats are considering raising the gasoline tax to pay for transportation projects needed to keep pace with Colorado’s booming population, Senate President Stan Matsunaka said.

A higher gas tax could raise billions of dollars to build roads and extend light-rail routes. The plan could be unveiled next month when the legislature meets in special session to tackle the state’s growth-related problems, said Matsunaka, D-Loveland.

It’s still unclear how voters, who would have to approve the tax hike, would react to the plan.

”I don’t know what the voters think,” Matsunaka said. ”I’m a driver, and I’m willing to pay to use the highways, but I don’t know how many people feel that way.”

It may be a tough sell since Colorado already has one of the highest state gas taxes in the nation at 22 cents per gallon. New York has the highest at 29.3 cents.

”I’m a college student, so any money is tight money,” said Maya Tull, as she filled up her tank near the Metropolitan State College of Denver campus. ”A new tax on gas would be hard for me.”

It could also be a tough sell among legislators.

”I’m appalled,” said Rep. Joe Stengel, R-Littleton, who has battled Senate Democrats on the best way to handle Colorado’s booming growth. ”Here we have an economy that appears to be slumping. I can’t believe the Democrats, with gas prices the way that they are, would add taxes. I find that unbelievable”

Matsunaka said voters may be receptive to a higher gas tax if they know the money will be used for specific projects to improve transportation in Colorado, and if that tax is temporary.

”People need to work their way out of the traffic jam we’re going to have,” Matsunaka said.

There could be other ways to pay for transportation projects, such as allowing the Regional Transportation District and other transportation authorities to issue bonds, he said. Either way, the state will need more money to build roads and rail lines to handle the 2 million people expected to pour into the state by 2020, he said. The Republicans have no plan for doing so, he said.

Matsunaka is expected to announce in September that he’ll run for governor in 2002.