The Jacksonville City Council will soon begin debate on whether the city’s six-cent gasoline tax should be extended for another 20 years.
The matter is launching a wider discussion involving the future of transportation in Jacksonville.
The money raised from extending the six-cent gas tax would be used for mass transit and to pay for road projects at the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. It was first adopted in 1986 and has been extend for a total of 30 years since. It’s set to expire in 2016.
City Council President Bill Gulliford’s bill would extend the gas tax for an additional 20 years. Five cents per gallon would go to JTA for bus services, with one-cent used for road improvements.
Critics of the extension include fellow council member Stephen Joost. He said there is no need to push through an extension of a tax that doesn’t expire for another two years, and that the council can use that time to overhaul transportation funding in Jacksonville since cars are now more fuel-efficient.
“The gas tax right now brings in 20 percent less than in did 10 years ago adjusted for inflation while there are record miles being driven in the state of Florida," he said."So what you have is a declining revenue source and miles are increasing. Basically what you are trying to do is you're trying to drive today's business on yesterday's technology."
But Gulliford said this is the best time to strike to fund road construction projects. He said construction and bond interest costs are still very low and waiting a few more years will only increase their price.
"In some still pretty tough times we can put a lot of people to work and that's what this economy needs especially in the jobs that would create are the people that most need those kinds of jobs," he said."That's where are greatest unemployment is."
JTA board member Ed Burr said the authority can’t properly operate without funds from the gasoline tax, which in recent years went exclusively to pay for transit subsidies.
Without it, Burr said, they would be forced to make drastic cuts which would have their greatest effects on those who rely most on their services.
"Those are the non-choice riders who use the transit system to get to work," he said. "Some of our disabled riders who use our para-transit services to get around to their necessary appointments they have to get to."
"Even the discounts we give seniors, you know some seniors ride free depending upon age. Those would in in question as well," he said.
The extension is also opposed by Mayor Alvin Brown. Brown's communications director Dave DeCamp said the gas tax is an inefficient way to pay for road projects, and it will continue to produce less money as cars continue to be more fuel efficient.
DeCamp also said the switch over to alternative fuels like compressed natural gas and electricity will also cut into gas tax revenues.
"We believe we need to think long-term about how we pay for transportation and find the best most productive ways to spend tax payer dollars and this is really an opportunity instead of rushing to judgment on this funding source to take a fresh look at how we pay for our projects," he said.
Gulliford said all of that is in the future. Right now—and for at least the next several years, he believes—the gasoline tax is the only option Jacksonville has to raise money to keep the busses running and the roads maintained.
"Yes out into the future there will be other opportunities for funding sources and there's always going to have to be a funding source for roads because you've got both improvements and maintenance to consider so somehow you are going to collect a use fee," he said. "I'd rather call it a use fee than a tax but you're going to collect use fee from some source or another or maybe multiple sources."
JTA is finalizing its list of road projects it hopes to fund in the coming years with the dollars the gas tax is expected to raise.
You can follow Kevin Meerschaert on Twitter @KMeerschaertJax.