That new fee Arizonans will be saddled with to register their cars each year began as a Legislative sleight of hand. It’s turned into a fiasco that will cost the public much more than billed.
Worse, it offers no assurances of better roads, the ostensible reason the state wanted more money.
Make no mistake, the roads do need repair and doing it well requires more money than the state highway user fund generates.
A major obstacle to better roads is that Arizona’s Legislature keeps raiding the highway user fund, a pot of money that is dedicated to roads.
Their solution is a law that sets up the new registration fee for cars. The money raised by the new fee is to be used by the Highway Patrol for law enforcement.
This way, the Legislature won’t move road money into the Highway Patrol budget each year. So the highway user funds will stay intact.
That’s the legislative promise. It comes from the same group that had the public believing the new auto fee would be $18. It’s really $32.
Arizona has a straightforward mechanism to fund road repair, the highway user revenue fund. It is a dedicated fund that receives money from gasoline taxes and vehicle registration.
In addition to the fact that the fund is continually raided by lawmakers, there’s another problem with it: It doesn’t generate enough money to maintain roads and add new ones.
So in adding a new tax without gathering required votes for a tax, the Legislature didn’t really address the core issue of road repair. Instead, it just gave the Highway Patrol a lot more money.
Sad to say, but perhaps the best hope for state roads is for the Legislature to fall back on its tactic of raiding dedicated funds and use the new registration fee to back up the highway fund.
A better idea would be for lawmakers to go back and get this law right.
The new fees should be lower, more like the $18 that was estimated before lawmakers moved it to $32 in budget negotiations.
It should also be used directly for roads and highways. The Highway Patrol and other law enforcement should be funded from general revenues. The Legislature needs to dive back into this issue to make it right and maybe restore some credibility for itself.
The public also needs to be very wary of this mechanism in which the Legislature moves money from one pocket to another then tells the public to fill the empty pocket.
— Today’s News-Herald