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Ugenti-Rita introduces bill to repeal vehicle fee

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)

Calling its enactment “sneaky,” a veteran lawmaker wants to repeal a new $32-a-vehicle fee on every car, truck, motorcycle and trailer that is being used to balance the state budget.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said it’s bad enough that her colleagues used an end-run around the Arizona Constitution to avoid having to get a two-thirds vote for the fee, designed to fund the state Highway Patrol.

But Ugenti-Rita said what added insult to injury is that lawmakers were told the fee would be in the $18-a-vehicle range, not 75 percent higher.

Any effort to repeal the fee — and the $185 million it raises from Arizona motorists — could get a fight from Gov. Doug Ducey who built his $10.4 billion budget on it while insisting it did not violate his promise never to increase taxes. Spokesman Patrick Ptak said the dollars are needed to free up cash for road construction and repair, “especially in rural areas of the state where resources are badly needed.”

“Any reforms to that fee should be responsible and keep these priorities in mind.”

It’s not just Ducey who is concerned. Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, the architect of the fee, also agrees there is a need for the additional dollars for road construction and maintenance.

But Campbell, like Ugenti-Rita, is irked that the fee is so much higher than he was told when he proposed it — and so much higher than he told his colleagues to get their votes.

Part of that is because the $32 fee is levied when a vehicle is registered. So anyone who has a multi-year registration — up to five years — is exempt until then.

And then the Highway Patrol budget ended up being larger than lawmakers were told.

Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott)

Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott)

Campbell wants to revamp the fee to make it fairer and lower it back to the original $18 promise.

But Ugenti-Rita said that misses the point that the fee was adopted through trickery to avoid having to get a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate. And Ugenti-Rita said if the money is really needed — and the levy is popular enough — it can be done in a way she says is legal, with the necessary two-thirds vote.

And if it can’t get the margin?

“Is that a justification to be tricky and circumvent the will of the people?” she said.

That will of the people is a 1992 voter-approved constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote for any new or increased tax or fee.

Unable to marshal that support, lawmakers instead empowered ADOT Director John Halikowski to compute the fee based on raising enough money to fund the Highway Patrol, with an extra 10 percent built in. And since it was Halikowski imposing the fee, the legislation to authorize him to do that required a simple majority vote.
Ugenti-Rita conceded that, strictly speaking, the maneuver is legal. The Arizona Supreme Court just last year upheld the legality of a similar mechanism to impose a fee on hospitals to pay for expansion of the state’s health care program for the poor.

That reasoning, however, left her unimpressed.

“If the government’s justification is ‘Just because I can, I will,’ that’s a bad one,” she said.

“I don’t think the public appreciates that,” Ugenti-Rita said. “Just because you found a sneaky way around it is not a good enough justification.”

The reason for the Highway Patrol fee is even more complicated.

Another constitutional provision says that any dollars raised from the use of Arizona roads, mainly gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, can be spent solely for those roads. But in prior efforts to balance the budget, lawmakers and governors have siphoned off those dollars to pay for at least part of the Highway Patrol based on the argument that the agency promotes highway safety.

What that did, however, is left fewer dollars for needed road construction and repair.

The road repair financial problem is complicated by the fact that the state’s 18-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax has not been raised since 1991. And while there are more vehicles on the road, they are more fuel efficient, meaning motorists are buying fewer gallons of gas for every mile they travel.

Campbell figured that a separate fee to pay for Highway Patrol would free up those gasoline taxes for what he said is the intended purpose.

The fee was approved by a 35-24 margin in the House and 17-13 in the Senate, margins enough to authorize Halikowski to compute and impose a fee, but not enough for lawmakers to set the fee themselves.

Even at the time foes decried the plan.

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

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

Ptak also insisted that the forcing motorists to pay an additional $32 for each vehicle does not violate Ducey’s pledge not to hike taxes, saying that it technically is a “fee.” But he declined to say whether the governor believes  the levy — whatever it is called — is fair or whether Ducey would veto any outright repeal if it reaches his desk.

17 comments

  1. Art Petersen - Concerned Conservative

    Was Ducey taking a lead from California Legislators? The fee is an additional tax, period. In addition where will this money really go. Any new tax should be earmarked for a specific use and should be shown as an additional tax and not a replacement for taxes already imposed . Tell it like it is not what legislators want us to think it is. The truth, please!

  2. Once again our elected officials are not using their brains to figure this problem out. Every Arizona citizen knows that this so-called fee is really a Tax. Government only creates taxes and not fees. Please, let’s not confuse the two.
    I have written before on this issue where this Highway tax could be funded by a rise in the gaqsoline tax at the pump. And it would be justified. The gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1991. Have we not expanded our roads and Highway patrol since then?? Of course we have. So I would propose a mere .$.03 increase in the tax would generate more money than they were figuring on in the beginning. AND it would be generated by the Tourists who also drive thru this state. If they drive then they should help pay for the great roads they travel on too. This state is known to generate more tourists (44 million) than any other state in the country. That means that they also increasingly use our roads. Let’s make them pay for the repairs and Highway Patrol rather than having the citizens of Arizona footing the entire bill.
    Just makes sense to me and I’m sure the vast majority of Arizona would agree.

  3. bradley taylor hudson

    Why is it that regressive taxes, like this one, are so easy to pass, while progressive taxes, like the “tax the rich”, are so hard to pass? When faced with the concept of taxing the rich, politicians, and the rich who put them in office, rally to protect themselves, stretching every legal opportunity to circumvent the will of the people. But when faced with the concept of taxing the less-than-rich, they rally to attack, stretching every legal opportunity to circumvent the will of the people. This gets old, tiring, and annoying. People are starting to see this as it it, and voting accordingly.

  4. What ever you want to call it, it’s under handed. They always want to sneak a provision in on a bill, or come in the back door! You can’t trust any of them any more.

  5. REPEAL this TAX. We must not stand for this trickery by our Government. It will be used again and again if we let this go.

  6. This is so unfair to those that may own 5 older cars but only drive one at a time. This fee should not be on every vehicle as only one is on the road at a time. Adjust the gas tax a few cents and establish an equal tax for electric cars since they use the same services.

  7. During the recent governor race the PAC supporting Ducey beat up on Garcia by playing the tape of him saying he would raise taxes. What happened right after the election? The State Legislature increased vehicle registration fees through an underhanded work/around process. Ducey can call it a fee and try to distance himself from it, but it occurred under his watch. He’s complicit. He’s arrogant. He owns it. Many of us wish we could take our Ducey vote back. We now know better. We won’t forget.

  8. Ralph, you are so right. I won’t forget that either

  9. Mike, you are right about this “Tax”. A Gas tax increase would be first easier to collect and less costly. Also the biggest benefit would be that the tourists who drive thru our state and buy gas and use our roads would also be helping to pay for these services and not just the residents.

  10. This was sneaky and just plain dirty. I drive a 2004 truck. It’s the newest vehicle we own. My registration was $33/year. This just doubled it. What a load of ****. This should have been VOTED on by AZ voters. The fact that Governor Ducey allowed it to happen without a vote is disgraceful. He’s proven that he’s just another dirty politician. He probably figures that since he can only serve 2 terms and is on his second, he can’t lose votes. I think he forgets that as an elected official, he works for US – the citizens of Arizona – most of whom drive and will be negatively impacted by this deception. I also think that he pretty clearly doesn’t care.

    Additionally, why does DPS get additional funding because they’re in a financial bind? Every other law-enforcement agency in the state has to deal with their own shortfalls without hijacking money from residents who had no choice in the matter. Those agencies do things like put a tax on the ballot to be voted on if they need it. Besides which, DPS has modified/reduced/restricted services to the state agencies they serve (they run the state crime lab). It seems wrong to decrease services and still scream for more money.

  11. I agree with ALL the comments on this and appreciate all who have commented, Thank you. I plan to call Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s office to back her repeal. I have been contemplating moving from this state and with this new “TAX” that just pushes me closer to actually doing that.

  12. This fee equals a tax no matter how you look at it. Ducey is showing his true colors this is the worst thing he could do to the people of Arizona, so whats to stop him from doing it next year and the year after that. He needs to grow up and quit making promises that the people of Arizona no he can’t keep, things go up in price and things happen. So get over the promise of no taxes and do what is fair for the people of Arizona and charge everyone who uses the roads in Arizona.

  13. Just Say No To Greed

    Thank you Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita for your worthy efforts and for speaking up on behalf of the vast majority of Arizonans.

    I own 5 vehicles, three of which are older, and the $32 tax on each is more than yearly registration was for the three older ones. Additionally, why is it that people with multiple vehicles have to pay the $32 tax per each vehicle owned ? For example, in my case of owning and having to pay a $32 tax on each of the FIVE vehicles when I can only drive ONE vehicle at a time seems inequitable and stinks of greed.

    While owning 5 vehicles, I’ve paid for registration, insurance, fuel, maintenance, etc. for all five which has been feeding into our State’s economy. Now that I’m motivated to down-size, the amount I pay into the same economy is going to be reduced. Maybe I should thank those responsible for this Safe Highways fee for motivating me to down-size and SAVE money, LOL!

  14. Have read elsewhere that Rep. Noel Campbell has criticized Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s repeal efforts as being a matter of Rep. Ugenti-Rita trying to “grab headlines”. As long as Rep. Ugenti-Rita is interested in serving the wishes of her constituents (unlike Rep. Noel Campbell apparently) then Rep. Ugenti-Rita gets my vote! For that matter, perhaps Rep. Ugenti-Rita should consider making a run for governorship next time. We could use representatives that actually care about the People and not the almighty dollar!

  15. I register 7 vehicles each year with only 2 drivers n the household. Why should vehicles sitting my garage mean I should pay more than others to find DPS? This is completely unfair. Should I stop registering some of them and just drive a gas guzzling truck all the time? Perhaps I would if the city didn’t require vehicles to have up to date registration in order to have them on my property.

    If our government thinks they really needs to increase revenue, then it should be possible to get 2/3 of our representatives to agree. If it’s legitimate, then the majority of voters will understand.

    Levying hidden and unfair taxes is a sure way to get voted out.

  16. Lets start a “Dump Ducey” campaign!!!!

  17. Clearly an illegal TAX HIKE to vehicle owners- and what USES is the tax dedicated to?? The gasoline tax is SUPPOSED to be for roads and bridges and HIGHWAY SAFETY, but is largely being dumped into “Public Workers” pension funds. GAS TAXES would be plenty sufficient if used for the reason it was created for!!

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