Since state Sen. Trip Pittman isn’t running for re-election, he figures he’s in the best position to offer the Baldwin County Commission the chance to raise taxes on gasoline next year.
Pittman has proposed allowing the commission to levy up to 3 cents a gallon on fuel, though not until after Oct. 1, 2018. The money could be used only for pay-as-you-go infrastructure projects, and could not be used to back a bond issue.
One-fourth of the money raised by the local tax would be split among municipalities based on population, according to the bill (SB79).
Pittman has said his current term will be his last in the Senate because he believes in term limits for elected officials. Not facing re-election made him more comfortable pushing the legislation. The bill does not commit the commission to a tax increase, it only offers the commission the option.
“It’s just something I think needs to be put in place. At some point it may be needed,” Pittman said.
The bill passed the Senate and Tuesday morning cleared the Baldwin delegation in the House of Representatives. Rep. Steve McMillan told Lagniappe the local delegation was somewhat concerned because of talk around Montgomery of a statewide 6-cent gas tax, though nothing has been introduced as yet.
They decided to go ahead and send the Baldwin tax to the House floor, he said.
Pittman said the money could be used to match state or federal road money that might become available in the future. Baldwin County is growing quickly and so is traffic. “People don’t calculate the time they waste in traffic,” he said.
A county tax would raise about $1.4 million per one cent, Pittman said. That’s much higher than a state 6-cent tax would bring in because of the way the state tax would be divided, he said.
Baldwin County Commissioner Frank Burt said he would support a local 3-cent gas tax. “We have more roads than almost any county in the state,” he said. “We’re larger than any other county. We’ve got almost 1,600 miles of road.”
Those roads need to be kept safe, he said. And considering that citizens can’t control oil prices and have had to pay $4 per gallon in the past, three pennies isn’t much, Burt said.
Sometimes elected officials have to make unpopular decisions, Burt said. “You may not always agree with what they do, but they have to look at what’s best for the county.”
In January, the commission voted to approve a sales tax for the public schools in an arrangement that also would generate nearly $5 million a year for county roads. The Legislature still must agree to the arrangement.