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Missoula Considers Local Option Gas Tax

Revenue generated from the increased gas tax Montana lawmakers passed last year collected more than $6 million in its first four months.
Rusty Clark (CC-BY-NC-2)
A proposed 2 cent local option gas tax would fund road maintenance in Missoula.

The Missoula Chamber of Commerce hasn’t yet taken a position on a possible 2 cent local option gas tax. But Sam Sill, the Chamber’s Government Affairs Director, says the proposal brings two intriguing ideas to the table.

"One is that it allows our community to shift the burden of paying for infrastructure onto the visitors who use our roads but really don’t contribute to paying for their maintenance."

Sill adds Montana’s local governments don’t have many revenue options. Without a local option fuel tax, he thinks Missoula may eventually be forced to hike property taxes or development fees to pay for mounting road maintenance costs.

Jessica Morriss, the city’s Transportation Planning Manager, says those expenses are outpacing the county’s ability to pay for them.

"It’s a piece of public infrastructure that we need to take care of and need to invest in. There’s been a lot of deferred maintenance because there hasn’t been enough money to keep things up to par."

Morriss says preliminary estimates suggest a 2 cent local option gas tax could annually raise anywhere from just over $630,000 to over $1 million.

She realizes some Missoulians will oppose the idea:

"I think the gas tax (proposal) is, although not perfect, at least a user-based fee, versus a property tax that doesn’t necessarily capture how much someone uses the roadways or not."

Critics oppose a local option gas tax, in part because they say local taxes and fees are already inflating Missoula’s cost of living.

Missoula city and county leaders will continue to discuss the gas tax proposal. Missoula voters defeated a similar idea in 1994.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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