Fuel Tax Increase Essential for Montana Infrastructure

Rep. Garner knew sponsoring HB 473 wouldn’t be politically popular

By Bob Warren

Rep. Frank Garner has taken quite a lashing from his opponents in the Kalispell area. Calling him “Gas Tax Garner” and “Not-So-Frank Garner.” Critics of Garner have been particularly vocal as June elections edge closer. The reality, however, is that Garner deserves thanks and praise for having the political courage to do the right thing.

At the end of 2016, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) was in dire financial straits, announcing that $144 million in construction projects for 2017 would be delayed, and maybe canceled. If something wasn’t done immediately, Montana would not have been able to match federal funds, and highway improvements would have gone by the wayside along with hundreds of good-paying Montana jobs.

Montana’s statewide road and bridge funding deficit is estimated to be in the range of $15 billion. In addition, a national transportation research group (TRIP), reported that driving on deficient roads costs Montana motorists a total of $794 million in additional vehicle operating costs (repairs, etc.) annually. And that doesn’t include the number of lives lost each year on Montana’s failing roads — Montana ranks third highest in the nation for fatalities. It was no secret we had to take action to address our failing infrastructure.

So, let’s be straight. No one wanted to increase the fuel tax. But sometimes we need to look beyond what we want to do, toward what we should do. In this case, bumping up the fuel tax for the first time in 24 years was the prudent choice.

We anticipate the fuel tax increase will provide more than a 150 percent boost in revenues for city and county road and bridge projects, and a $30 million increase in funding for highway and interstate systems. MDT can now maximize the amount of federal dollars that are put into roads and bridges in our state. For every $13 that Montana invests in our roads and bridges, we receive roughly $87 of federal match – literally, that is how the equation works. I defy anyone to find a place where Montanans gets more bang for their state buck than this.

Rep. Garner knew sponsoring HB 473 wouldn’t be politically popular, but he recognized the critical need for someone to show leadership. Montana’s fuel tax had not changed in 24 years, and today’s cars and trucks consume far less fuel than they did in 1993. Leadership is making the tough decisions and the right decisions — not the easy ones.

Taking an honest look at the needs of our state clearly proves that we need more elected representatives like Garner.

Vote for Frank Garner.

Bob Warren, paving manager
Schellinger Construction