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Nebraska Legislature Overrides Governor's Veto to Hike Gas Tax

Thirty votes were needed on May 14 to overturn Gov. Pete Ricketts veto of the six cents per gallon gas tax hike approved by the state legislature, and that's just how many Sen. Jim Smith received. South Carolina may be next.
May 18, 2015, 1pm PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"Nebraskans will start paying more at the pump next year after state lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto Thursday and approved an increase in the gas tax," reports Joe DugganWorld-Herald staff writer. "Backers of Legislative Bill 610 said in exchange for a tax increase that will be phased in over four years, motorists will get smoother roads and safer bridges. 

The reason for the override may have captured best by Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo who "sided with most of his constituents, who told him they were willing to pay more for better roads," writes Duggan.

The schedule for the phased gas hike:

  • The gas tax will increase 1.5 cents on Jan. 1, 2016
  • The tax will go up 1.5 cents on Jan. 1, 2017, 2018, and 2019

Not exactly the best start for first term Republican Governor Pete Ricketts, who was inaugurated on January 8, 2015. Nebraska's legislature is both unicameral and nonpartisan.

"In his [May 7] veto message, Ricketts criticized a fuel fee increase as a regressive tax that falls hardest on low-income drivers," according to AASHTO Journal. Similarly, in his May 14 press release, he mentioned the regressivity of the gas tax, but also included the need for "relief from income and property taxes," i.e., Ricketts would appear to oppose any tax hike.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jim "Smith, who is chairman of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, said it was the toughest bill he has worked on during his five years in the Legislature," adds Duggan.

The gas hike would bring the current 26.5 cent gas tax, 27th highest in the United States [PDF] as of April 1 according to the American Petroleum Institute, to 32.5 cents on 2019. Assuming there were no changes in other state gas taxes, clearly an unlikely scenario as the Nebraska legislature, if not the governor, is certainly not alone in seizing this period of historically low gas prices to hike gas taxes, to #16 on the list.

According to USA Today, "gasoline will likely be the cheapest in at least six years this summer, experts predict."

According to a May 13 column in the Washington Examiner penned by American for Tax Prosperity, a group that strongly fought the Nebraska gas tax bill, the next state to watch for a gas tax increase is South Carolina.

As posted here earlier, the 10-cent gas tax increase that passed the Republican-controlled House on April 15 is veto-proof and the Senate wants a higher gas tax. Could the need for better maintained roads and bridges result in a second gubernatorial veto override?

Hat tip to Clyde Anderson, Sierra Club Green Transportation Committee.

Full Story:
Published on Friday, May 15, 2015 in Omaha World Herald
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