Utah’s governor proposes taking gas tax money to pay for transit improvements

SALT LAKE CITY -- Tucked into the governor's annual budget recommendations is a proposal to dip into funds normally earmarked for road repairs to pay for improvements to mass transit.

Gov. Gary Herbert said it's one of his recommendations to help address Utah's continual air quality problems.

"We’ve kind of been locked in that it can only be asphalt and roads. That’s certainly going to be a significant part of the reason we have gasoline tax. But clearly, mass transit and transit is a growing part of what we’re going to need particularly along the Wasatch Front," he told FOX 13 recently. "And we ought to have the ability, the legislation to prioritize where we get the best return for the taxpayer’s dollar."

The gas tax that you pay when you fill up your vehicle is normally spent at the Utah Dept. of Transportation to fix roads. Shifting some of the funds toward improvements in bus and train service might help get people out of their cars.

The governor detailed his idea while speaking to the Salt Lake Chamber earlier this week. The business group has complained that Utah's air quality problems are becoming an issue in recruiting new companies here.

In his remarks, the governor insisted that Utah's air quality has been improving. However, he acknowledged the negative impacts to public health, business and tourism.

Advocates for clean air have said the biggest contributor to our pollution is people driving. Thom Carter, the executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership, welcomed the budget news.

"The idea of moving some money around to increase frequency, increase trips, increase bus services and lines, that’s how we start solving this problem," he said.

Of course, it's all in the details, Carter said. The Utah State Legislature is expected to consider the budget proposal when it begins meeting next week. The Utah Transit Authority said it had not yet reviewed the governor's budget proposal, which could see more money shifted to them to improve service.

"We need to encourage people try it (transit) and figure out and see this is a solution for them from their home," Carter said. "Keep their car off and get to work or school or shopping, these are great opportunities."