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ADOT fee double forecasted amount, angers lawmakers


That balanced budget that Gov. Doug Ducey said wouldn’t raise taxes is going to cost Arizona motorists an extra $32 a year for every car, truck and motorcycle they have.

And it’s more than 50 percent higher than Arizonans were told when the plan was first adopted earlier this year.

The fee is designed to have motorists pay directly for the costs of the Highway Patrol rather than having the agency funded out of gas tax and existing vehicle registration fees.

That is supposed to free up cash from the gas tax to instead be used for road construction and repair. And that, in turn, means that general tax collections which had been used for those purposes could instead fund other priorities of the governor and Legislature.

There’s a reason the fee, approved by lawmakers earlier this year, is a surprise. And it’s political.

The Arizona Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate for any new or increased tax or fee. And there were not the votes in either chamber to do that.

So lawmakers and the governor used a loophole of sorts: They directed John Halikowski, the head of the state Department of Transportation, to figure out how much the Highway Patrol division of the Department of Public Safety costs to operate. And then Halikowski was directed to impose a new fee to cover that cost.

In passing the buck, so to speak, by refusing to set the fee themselves, lawmakers then needed just a simple majority.

But the fee that was announced Thursday surprised Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who came up with the idea.

“That amount was not broached,” he told Capitol Media Services, saying “$17 or $18 was what the fee they told us we’d be dealing with.”

That’s also the number Campbell gave to colleagues when they approved the plan.

The Prescott lawmaker is not happy with Thursday’s announcement.

“We gave him the authority,” he said of Halikowski.

“We hope that he does the right thing,” Campbell continued. “I’m certainly going to talk to him about that and find out why.”

It’s not just Campbell that got a surprise when ADOT set the fee.

In preparing the plan earlier this year, legislative budget analysts figured that Highway Patrol would need about $135 million a year. Even with a 10 percent buffer, that would come to just $148 million.

And that, they figured, would cost vehicle owners just $18.06 a year.

So what changed?

ADOT spokesman Doug Nick said it turns out the Highway Patrol budget will be $168 million. Add 10 percent to that and the fee needs to raise to $185 million.

And there’s something else. Legislative budget staffers figured the cost would be divided up among 8.3 million registered vehicles.

But Nick said the owners of many of the vehicles on the road have prepaid their registrations for two or five years. So they can’t be taxed until they renew.

Add to that vehicles that are exempt from the levy, like government vehicles and those owned by nonprofit entities, and that $185 million has to be raised from the owners of just 5.8 million vehicles.

Do the math and you come up with $32.

The whole money-making maneuver – including the decision to leave the fee up to the ADOT director – is the culmination of a multi-year effort to find new dollars to help build new roads and repair existing ones.

That is supposed to be financed largely through a gasoline tax. But that 18-cent-a-gallon levy has not been raised since 1991 when gasoline was in the $1.20-a-gallon range.

And while there are more vehicles on the road, they also are more fuel efficient, with the number of road miles driven – and the wear and tear on the roads – increasing faster than new revenues.

What’s made matters worse is that the current and former governors and lawmakers, looking to balance the budget, have siphoned off some of those gas tax revenues to pay for the Highway Patrol. That left fewer dollars for both urban and rural transportation needs.

There were several lawmakers who were less than pleased with how the fee increase was crafted.

“Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, called it “the worst kind of tax increase” because it was being done without any idea of what it would cost motorists.

“We’re going to tell an unelected bureaucrat to go ahead and raise these fees to whatever he wants to,” he said.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, also balked at approving a yet-to-be-determined fee.

“I just can’t in good conscience pass something I don’t know what it is exactly,” she said.


  1. The people of this state should rase hell over this blatant work around of the states constitution. If lawmakers don’t have the guts to make the hard choices then they need to go home.

    Having some unelected bureaucrat balance our budget is a disgrace to everyone in the House, Senate and Governors office.
    Maybe we could just do away with all elected person’s look at the money we could save then.

  2. If they allocate this money to its purported purpose it might be o k but Government has a way of using taxpayers money for other items. In one pocked out the other. The Highway Patrol is important but elected Representatives should stand up and be counted. Are they really our representative? Do they spend money on real needs or just plain old desires.. Why not look at ways of trimming the budget rather than behind the scenes spending ideas. I left California 9 years ago because of a tax and spend mentality.

  3. This fee is a heavy burden on the cost of owning and operating a vehicle here in Arizona. Did it really have to be so high? My motorcycle registration has gone from $9 to $52. That is ridiculous. My God are you lawmakers insane? You will suffer at the election box for your betrayal and failure to protect the interest of the public. Shame on all of you.

  4. I can’t believe Arizona voters are going to accept this tax increase. This is taxation without representation. How can our lawmakers do this to us?
    ADOT is one agency that doesn’t deserve the extra increase.
    This is despicable. Shame on you legislature!

  5. Politics as usual!!!! My favorite part of the article is the part that says ” Fund Other Priorities”??? Well
    if they were priorities before how were “Those” priorities funded and what were those “Priorities”!!
    Sounds like Ducey was acting Douche!! Follow the MONEY$$$$$$$$$

  6. Points To Consider

    If the lawmakers and the governor are authorized to tell ADOT to set the fee, then those same lawmakers and the governor are certainly authorized to tell ADOT to revise that fee down to a lesser amount.

    The 10% buffer is also above and beyond what the taxpayers should be expected to pay. Whether the budget was $135 million or $168 million (each without the “buffer”) Then the unbuffered amount should be the budget to be worked within.

    If there’s 8.3 million registered vehicles to share the cost of this tax, it’s an undue burden on the 5.8 million registered vehicle owners to have to pick up the slack for the 2.5 million registered vehicle owners who had the foresight to register their vehicles for 2 or 5 years. The real figure could be 8.3 million registered vehicles and simply play catch-up when those vehicles are due for renewal.

    Even the original projection of between $17 and $18 per vehicle is high, the $32 tax per vehicle is absurd.

  7. Funny how just a short time ago, I recall hearing that the “20 by 20” plan included no new taxes to fund teacher raises. Now I know the government thinks we are stupid, but this one is just a total insult. A forced fee on top of the amount we pay already is nothing more than theft. Should we refuse to pay this new arbitrary fee, we wouldn’t be able to procure a registration. Not being able to get a registration = getting pulled over. Getting pulled over = being ticketed by the State’s armed revenue generation squad. The same exact organization this extra money is alledgedly going to fund to further blur the line between police and military. So in essence, the citizens of Arizona are being held hostage. We had no chance to vote on this. Another fine example of government “knowing what’s best” for its subjects. I’m curious, are state legislators exempt from this new fee, or paying registrations entirely? Someone should ask Paul Mosley if the registration on his Lexus LS400 is subsidized by the constituents he narrowly avoids running over on a daily basis.
    The chance of anyone actually reading this from the governors office are very slim, but if they do, I’d like to remind them that we are in ARIZONA, not California. My last words will be words of advice:
    Stop robbing the people you swore to represent. No time in history has taxing the citizens to death resulted in more favorable views of government.

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