BISMARCK — The North Dakota House of Representatives has advanced legislation that would raise the gas tax paid by drivers in the state for the first time in more than 15 years.

The lower chamber voted 62-32 on Monday, Feb. 22, to approve House Bill 1464, which would boost the motor fuel tax by three cents per gallon. The proposal, which underwent several amendments, will now go across the hall to the Senate for consideration. Similar efforts to raise the gas tax failed to pass in 2019.

Since 2005, drivers have shelled out 23 cents in tax per gallon of gas or diesel — more than a nickel under the national average. Supporters of a gas tax increase say the revenue brought in by the outdated fee isn't able to cover looming infrastructure costs.

Dickinson Republican Rep. Vicky Steiner, the bill's sponsor, said bumping up the gas tax means not all of the necessary funding to fix old roads and bridges will have to come out of the voter-approved Legacy Fund. Steiner said sapping the oil tax savings account is inconsiderate of future generations and allows out-of-staters, who make up a quarter of the drivers on the road, to get a "free ride" at North Dakota's expense.

The North Dakota House of Representatives approved House Bill 1464 on Monday, Feb. 22. Screenshot via North Dakota Legislature
The North Dakota House of Representatives approved House Bill 1464 on Monday, Feb. 22. Screenshot via North Dakota Legislature

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"I don't like talking about (raising) taxes either, but sometimes it's our responsibility because we do have deficient bridges," Steiner told her colleagues Monday. "We don't want to get in a situation where some of those bridges are unsafe for the traveling public."

A recent North Dakota State University study found that maintaining and repairing local roads in the state will cost $9.3 billion over the next two decades. The proposed gas tax increase would net the state and localities nearly $44 million in revenue next budget cycle, according to a fiscal note.

The state Department of Transportation and lobbying groups for counties, cities and construction companies back the drive to raise the fee, saying the road and bridge problems will get more expensive the longer the state waits.

The bill drew criticism from several fiscally conservative Republicans, including Minot Rep. Larry Bellew, who speculated that the new presidential administration may significantly raise the federal gas tax. Bellew added that the COVID-19 pandemic has put a financial strain on many North Dakotans, and a higher gas tax could have harsh consequences for low-income drivers.

A more broadly popular part of the bill also nudges up an annual fee paid by owners of electric vehicles to make up for their lack of gas-tax payments.

Mike Nowatzki, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Burgum previously declined to comment on the bill, but the Republican governor proposed a budget in December that emphasized no tax increases.