Voices: Pennies for potholes

Christopher Anderson

Potholes. They’re a fact of life this time of year. They are also really expensive and damaging.

Potholes are a symptom of a greater problem plaguing our local transportation networks. Our transportation infrastructure is not getting the financial support it needs from federal and state decisionmakers, and it is rapidly approaching crisis level.

We can change that at the local level. The resources necessary to address potholes, and other road maintenance, can get a local boast.

Recently, a diverse team of community members sent a letter to Missoula County Commissioners requesting they place a referendum on the ballot in June for a two-cent per gallon local option gasoline tax to help fund local road maintenance needs. It’s pennies for potholes, and tourists would help foot the bill.

The benefits of a local gasoline-only tax are many:

Tourists and visitors would generate about $400,000 annually, helping to pay for maintenance of the infrastructure they use.

A local gas tax could make available additional state and federal matching funds for road repairs and maintenance, leveraging up to seven dollars for each local dollar.

The revenue would go to a dedicated account that can be used for road repairs and road maintenance in Missoula City and County with local control to address local needs and priorities.

As you may know, there are limited sources of revenue for roads—almost all road maintenance funding currently comes from property taxes. The gas tax is a user tax that not only provides a fair way to assess those using our roads, but it also would help bring in money from outside of our county.

Recently REALTORS®, in collaboration with other Missoula area partners, has undertaken an assessment of Missoula leaders and voters on their support for a two-cent per gallon county-wide gasoline tax. The research completed to date provides insights to key data points:

One – A clear majority of voters believe the road conditions in Missoula County are Poor or Fair. And only 4 percent believe the roads are excellent.

Two – An overwhelming majority of voters say there is great or some need for increased funds for road maintenance.

Three – There is support from Republicans, Independents and Democrats who say there is great or some need to increase funding for road maintenance. This is not a partisan issue.

Four – Voters like the local two-cent per gallon gas tax because it will be for local road repair, allow for matching funds, help with snow removal and be in a local dedicated fund for road reports and maintenance. There are high levels of support for using local funds for local investments to address local needs.

Five – Voters support the two-cent tax on gas by a margin of 62 percent to 37 percent.  The more voters hear about the local benefits, the more their support increases.

No one likes potholes, but now we can do something about it. Please join me in asking the County Commissioners to ask us, the voters, whether we support pennies to address potholes.