By Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico’s taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel would increase by 5 cents a gallon for a decade under a proposal in the Legislature to help finance highway construction projects across the state.

The measure by the chairman of the House Transportation and Public Works Committee, Democratic Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales of Taos, would raise the gasoline tax to 22 cents a gallon through June 30, 2024, and then the rate would revert to 17 cents.

The special fuels tax on diesel would go to 26 cents a gallon for the same 10-year period before returning to 21 cents.

The additional tax revenue would allow the state to issue up to $300 million in bonds for 10 major highway improvements projects.

Gonzales acknowledged Thursday it will be difficult to win approval of a tax increase during an election year, but he said it’s critical that New Mexico start to address a growing gap between needs for highway construction and maintenance, and available revenue.

“I’ve always felt that I’d rather be criticized for trying than not trying. We’re in a position that we have to do something,” he said.

Any tax hike will run into trouble with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who’s adopted a no-tax-increase stance since taking office in 2011. Martinez and all 70 members of the House are up for election this year.

Taxes on motor fuels are a main source of money for road construction and maintenance, but revenue isn’t growing much, in part because vehicles are more fuel efficient.

New Mexico’s 17-cents-a-gallon tax rate on gasoline has been in effect since 1995, and it’s among the lowest in the region.

Oklahoma’s gas tax is 16 cents, Arizona’s is at 18 cents, Texas’ is 20 cents, and Colorado’s is 22 cents a gallon, according to the American Petroleum Institute. The national average is about 21 cents, and the federal government also imposes a tax of 18.4 cents a gallon on gasoline.

A nickel-a-gallon increase in taxes on gasoline and diesel would generate about $70 million annually, according to estimates last year by the state Taxation and Revenue Department.

The legislation authorizes financing for these projects:

- $35 million for six-lane construction of Interstate 25 in Las Cruces, from where it intersects with I-10 and then north to U.S. 70.

- $15 million for six-lane construction of U.S. 70 in Las Cruces.

- $50 million for improvements to U.S. 54 between Carrizozo and Corona.

- $25 million to replace a bridge on U.S. 54 near Logan.

- $25 million for reconstruction of the junction of U.S. 64 and 87 in Clayton.

- $25 million for improvements on U.S. 64 between Farmington and Bloomfield.

- $25 million for reconstruction of state Route 68 from Espanola to Velarde.

- $50 million to complete four-lane construction on a section of U.S. 491 from near Buffalo Springs to Naschitti.

- $25 million for an I-25 interchange at the Mesa del Sol development in Albuquerque. According to the Transportation Department, the earmarked financing could be used to improve the I-25 and Rio Bravo Boulevard interchange that currently provides access to Mesa del Sol.

- $25 million for widening I-25 to six lanes in Albuquerque from Rio Bravo Boulevard to the future Mesa del Sol interchange.

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