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Gulliford

Gas tax discussion: Now or later?

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

A day to mark Jacksonville having the state's first liquefied natural gas refueling station turned to political views about renewing the 6-cent gas tax.

Elected officials touted the economic and environmental benefits of Clean Energy Fuel Corp. investment, but soon after the ribbon was cut, several used the event to make a point about the debate set to ensue in the coming weeks.

Legislation filed by City Council President Bill Gulliford seeks to renew the local-option gas tax for 20 years.

His goal is to have it approved as quickly as possible, well before the 2016 expiration date.

"What's the rush? The industry is changing before our very eyes," asked City Council member Stephen Joost.

He said that with the "pendulum swing" toward alternative fuels, revenue generated from the gasoline tax is down and that relying on a 20-year revenue projection from the tax won't work.

Mayor Alvin Brown has been a longtime opponent of extending the tax.

He joined Joost on Wednesday just after the event to speak against extending the tax.

"It doesn't expire until August 2016. To me, there are a lot of things that should be done, there are a lot of studies out there, new opportunities," Brown said.

Joost said he thought the gas tax debate should be delayed two more years while further studies are done.

Gulliford is not in favor of that idea.

"That's just stupid," he said. "Just stupid. … Waiting around costs us money."

Construction costs and interest rates to build needed transportation infrastructure projects are lower now than they would be in two years, he said, meaning waiting only hurts cities, counties and states.

And, the Legislature has approved the ability to tax natural gas, making up any lost funding opportunity.

"The loss of revenue in one area is going to be made up in another," he said.

State statute will allow natural gas to be taxed beginning in 2019, using a gallon equivalent of motor fuel its basis.

According to the law, an excise tax of 4 cents on each equivalent gallon and an additional 1 cent tax on each gallon are available. In addition, another 1 cent tax is for each country, designated as the "local option fuel tax." And, another "State Comprehensive Enhanced Transportation System Tax" can be set each calendar year by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Gulliford said he will be filing an amendment to his gas-tax extension bill next week.

That will include that breakdown of how the 6 cents would be dispersed, a list of projects to be funded and transferring the St. Johns River Ferry to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

dchapman@baileypub.com

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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