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North Dakota Senate puts the brakes on gas tax hike

Supporters of a gas tax increase said the revenue brought in by the outdated fee isn't able to cover looming infrastructure costs. Opponents of the bill said it's the wrong time to raise a tax on North Dakotans considering the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Emma Detloff fills her gas tank Feb. 1, 2021, at Casey's General Store on University Drive South in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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BISMARCK — The North Dakota Senate has nixed legislation that would have raised the gas tax paid by drivers in the state for the first time in more than 15 years.

The upper chamber voted 29-16 on Friday, March 26, to kill House Bill 1464 , which would have boosted the gas tax by three cents per gallon and increased an annual fee paid by electric car owners. The House of Representatives approved the proposal in a slightly different form last month. Similar efforts to raise the gas tax failed in 2019.

Since 2005, drivers have shelled out 23 cents in tax per gallon of gas or diesel — more than a nickel under the national average . Supporters of a gas tax increase said the revenue brought in by the outdated fee isn't able to cover looming infrastructure costs.

Sen. Mark Weber, R-Casselton, said the state hasn't upped the gas tax to account for inflation and the rising costs of road maintenance. Weber also noted that the cost of a 3-cent increase to the average North Dakota driver is minimal. The freshman lawmaker calculated it would only cost him an extra $22.50 a year to fill the tank of his pickup truck.

Opponents of the bill, such as Stanley Republican Sen. Jordan Kannianen, said it's the wrong time to raise a tax on North Dakotans considering the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Kannianen noted that having a lower gas tax than all three bordering states gives North Dakota gas stations a competitive advantage in attracting customers who live across state lines.

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Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said the state will be able to keep up with road and bridge maintenance with money from the Legacy Fund and doesn't need extra revenue from the gas tax. Other legislation in the pipeline puts earnings from the state's oil tax savings account toward local roads and highway repairs. Wardner also noted that federal dollars will keep coming in to pay for infrastructure needs.

Weber and a few other bill supporters said the Legacy Fund wasn't intended to cover routine road maintenance costs when voters approved it in 2010.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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