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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

House Approves Smaller Fuel Tax Increase To Fix Roads And Bridges

A bill to increase the fuel tax continues to advance down the road as the Legislative session is moving closer to adjournment.

“And I find myself in the middle of Montana in the 65th Legislative Session in a very odd position where I feel the need to quote Mick Jagger,” said Representative Frank Garner, R-Kalispell. “And that is you don’t always get what you want.”

Rep. Frank Garner speaking about his bill to raise Montana's fuel tax.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka
Rep. Frank Garner speaking about his bill to raise Montana's fuel tax.

Garner says the purpose of his House Bill 473 is to make Montana’s roads safer. The former Kalispell police chief says Montanans are dying on unsafe roads and their vehicles are being damaged on these roads.

At first, the bill sought to raise the tax on gasoline by 8-cents a gallon; diesel by just over 7 cents.  The Senate reduced that. The House was asked to accept those changes.

“Politics is the art of the possible,” said House Appropriations Chair Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton. She said she didn’t come to the session to raise taxes, but worked with the proponents to lower the tax increase.

“And to me it was a testament to what you can do when you get together, roll up your sleeves and I kinda agree with Mick Jagger that we don’t get what we want. We don’t always get what we need though,” she said.

Ballance said this tax increase will affect every driver and the cost of goods and services. Still she said this bill is better now than when first introduced.

“And now for me it’s not a question of whether or not I vote for a gas tax, it’s whether I vote for something that makes it better for my people back home and I think for all of Montana,” she said.

But opponents said raising the gas tax will hurt working people, especially those in rural Montana.

Representative Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, called this bill contrary to her way of thinking and her belief system. She argued funding could have come from taking a hard look at government and spending.

“But instead of addressing those problems and finding and fixing the inefficiencies in government our solution is to harness our citizens, the very people who hired us to fight for them and interpose between them and their government, we’re going to harness them with a gas tax for ever more,” Manzella said.

The Republican-controlled House approved the Senate’s changes on a 61-to-39 vote.

Copyright 2017 Yellowstone Public Radio

Jackie Yamanaka
Jackie Yamanaka has been news director at YPR since 1986. From her home base in Billings, Jackie covers a wide range of issues across Montana and Wyoming. During the Montana Legislative session, she re-locates to the state Capitol in Helena where she has another office.
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