- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts made good Thursday on his promise to veto a proposed 6-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase, setting up a showdown with lawmakers who approved it hours earlier.

The Republican governor said in his veto message that the measure contradicts the public’s desire for tax relief and would raise a regressive tax that would disproportionately cost lower-income motorists a greater percentage of their money.

“Nebraskans want and deserve tax relief,” Ricketts said. The bill “would do the exact opposite by imposing a $75 million per year tax increase.”

Lawmakers passed the bill Thursday with a 26-15 vote. At least 30 votes are needed to override a gubernatorial veto, but the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, has said he believes it would have enough support.

Smith cast the measure as a “user fee” for motorists and argued that good roads promote economic growth. The measure would generate an estimated $76 million a year once fully implemented to pay for road and bridge repairs. The money would be divided evenly among cities, counties and the state.

Ricketts said revenues for the Department of Roads have hit a 20-year high when adjusted for inflation, thanks to an increase in motor vehicle registration revenue, taxes from vehicle sales and state revenue diverted to highway projects under a 2011 roads-funding law.

Ricketts said his new state roads director, Kyle Schneweis, will take a fresh look at the state’s infrastructure needs to find alternatives to the higher tax.

Smith has argued that the statewide need has grown too large to address without additional revenue. In a report last year, the Department of Roads identified $10.2 billion in projects it says are needed over the next 20 years.

Groups that lobbied against the higher tax expressed disappointment with the vote.

“It’s truly disheartening to see that Nebraska’s elected officials refuse to listen to their constituents and voted to raise taxes,” said Matt Litt, state director of Americans for Prosperity Nebraska. “A gas tax hike doesn’t only hurt Nebraskans at the pump, but in a variety of areas in daily life.”

Other opponents have said the tax increase will disproportionately affect the poor because many spend a larger proportion of their incomes on gas.

Nebraska’s gas was the 26th most expensive nationally because of its taxes and fees as of Jan. 1, according to the American Petroleum Institute. In March, the state’s gas tax fell behind Iowa’s for the first time in decades after a new gas tax went into effect there.

Nebraska’s share of Federal Highway Trust money has fallen faster than the national average in the five-year period that ended in 2013, the last year for which numbers were available. The state saw a 5.2 percent drop while funding for all states fell by 3.5 percent.

Nebraska has more than 100,000 miles of roads and 20,000 bridges, mostly owned by counties and cities. Roughly 10,000 miles of road and 3,500 bridges belong to the state.

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