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State gas tax decreases slightly

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By Leslie Moore

Motorists might pay a little less at the pump after Kentucky's gas tax decreased from 25.9 cents a gallon to 24.4 cents on Jan. 1.

The decrease has prompted mixed reactions from Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and elected officials.

State Rep. John "Bam" Carney, R-Campbellsville, said the 1.5 cent decrease is welcome news for motorists who have been paying an average of $3.30 per gallon of gas, which he says puts stress on families and businesses.

"Anytime families and businesses can save a little bit, it's a good thing for them," Carney said. "At the end of the day, I'm glad for citizens to have a little more money to meet their family's needs. It's a positive thing."

Chuck Wolfe, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, says the change is because of a drop in the average wholesale price of gas.

According to Wolfe, the variable excise tax rises, falls or stays unchanged from quarter to quarter based on a survey of the average wholesale price of motor fuels. The survey is conducted by the Department of Revenue in the first month of each quarter - January, April, July and October. Any rate changes will take effect on the first day of the following quarter.

The 1.5 percent decease is a result of last October's survey.

"It is really an automatic process," Wolfe said. "It's not anything that the Transportation Cabinet does. We do not decide to raise the gas tax or decrease it."

The tax decrease will also mean a loss of about $45 million to the Kentucky Road Fund. Chris Jessie, public information officer for Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 4-Elizabethtown, which covers Taylor County, stated in an emailed response that the loss is a 4.8 percent reduction to the budget when looking at the big picture.

"The motor fuels tax is the source of funding for building and maintaining state roads and bridges," Jessie wrote. "Any loss of revenue is concerning."

According to Jessie, the scope of projects and maintenance is sometimes not fully understood and projects include more than building new roads.

"It could be rebuilding a hazardous intersection or adding traffic signals at a hazardous intersection, for example," Jessie wrote. "Maintenance is more than filling potholes."

The fund also is responsible for snow and ice operations and Wolfe said the resulting expenses can quickly add up during a bad winter.

"A couple of years ago, we totally busted the budget for salt," Wolfe said.

The rural secondary program, which helps counties maintain local roads, is also funded through a percentage of the tax. Taylor County alone is expected to receive as much as $1.2 million for road improvements through the program this fiscal year.

Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers said any funding decrease to the program could affect a lot of counties.

While each county has some discretion as to how they use their share of the funds, Rogers said Kentucky Transportation Cabinet personnel must approve all projects.

He said Cabinet representatives will present a report on the rural secondary program at the Taylor County Fiscal Court meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 6 p.m. at the Taylor County Courthouse. The meeting is open to the public.

"They do it by the need. Whatever road needs it the worst is the one they will do," Rogers said.

State Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, who represents Taylor County, said despite the $45 million loss, the road fund revenue is still expected to increase in the next fiscal year.

"It depends on how you look at it," Gregory said. "Obviously the advantage is we're all happy to pay less money in taxes and it's good to see it go down instead of up, in my opinion."