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Gas tax will be hard sell

by staff

Douglas County commissioners have decided to put the 5-cent gas tax back on next year’s ballot. The tax would raise $1 million a year for road maintenance and construction. Commissioners, who declined to officially come out in favor of the tax, indicate they think the additional money is crucial for good roads and to avoid hefty repair bills in the future as the roads deteriorate.

Voters repealed the tax by a very narrow margin five years ago, 4,775 to 4,483. Opponents of the tax argued in 1994 that if the extra nickel weren’t repealed, motorists would drive right through Douglas County to buy cheaper gas in Carson City and elsewhere.

Residents also voted down a later effort to impose a sales tax increase to pay for road improvements.

If this tax is to be successful, the public relations campaign must start now. Voters in the towns and general improvement districts – who already are taxed for their own communities’ road improvements – need to be convinced why they should pay even more to fix their neighbors’ roads in the rural areas.

There is also the contingent that doesn’t want anything to do with paved roads, streetlights, curbs or other improvements. These residents will argue that they moved as far out as possible to get away from paying for and maintaining such amenities.

Another roadblock for passage is sure to be the skyrocketing gas prices motorists have paid this summer. Five years ago, gas was approximately $1.25 a gallon. Today, gas is nearly 25 cents higher.

Consumers don’t understand – or care – why the prices have gone up and are likely to exert any control they can over the costs. That’s why the public relations campaign should borrow a page from the 1998 sales tax hike playbook: Start from the ground up, and show us – don’t tell us – why we need the tax.