The state fuel tax should be called a user fee, because that's really what it is, and what it was meant to be. Those who spend the most on fuel pay the most, because they are putting the most wear and tear on the roads. The tax funds road construction and maintenance, with a portion going to cities and counties.
The concept of fuel tax as user fee, however, is hitting a snag because, as the cost of gasoline rises, people are buying more fuel-efficient vehicles and driving less. Those are positive outcomes, because they make the air we breathe less toxic. But less money spent on fuel also means less revenue from the fuel tax, and the Utah transportation fund is feeling the pinch, a $27 billion expected shortfall over the next 30 years.
The Beehive State has not raised its 24.5-cent-a-gallon state gasoline tax since 1997. Raising the tax now seems heavy-handed, considering unemployment is stuck at 6 percent in Utah, and effects of the Great Recession continue to eat away at employed Utahns' paychecks. Nevertheless, it is the most fair way to pay for new roads and maintenance costs.