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    Gas Tax Hike Considered in Florida

    Pinellas County Commissioners say the 6-cent-per-gallon hike is needed to pay for transportation needs.

    ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Faced with increasing complaints about traffic, a growing list of countywide transportation demands and limited resources to pay for them, Pinellas County Commissioners see few alternatives but to levy an additional 6 cents on a gallon of gasoline -- the maximum allowed by state law.

    The proposed effort comes as gas prices have jumped 12 cents per gallon in the past month and 20 cents since June, according to a report in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. Add to that an unstable economy, a tenuous job market and highways of gas-guzzling SUVs, and county officials admit they are taking on a daunting task.

    "It's never easy to go out and talk about a tax. That's absolutely understandable. But on the other hand, we hear loud and clear that people want things done with congestion. Therein lies the conflict," County Administrator Steve Spratt said.

    The commission tentatively is set to vote on the tax Nov. 18. If it passes, residents would start to pay the new tax in 2005.

    County officials estimate a $505.3-million need over the next 20 years to pay for a variety of improvements that include widening roads, rehabilitating bridges, synchronizing traffic signals and other major traffic enhancements.

    Pinellas County residents already pay a 6-cent county gas tax. Factor in state, federal and other taxes, and that means 45 cents is added to every gallon of gas. Some members of Congress are pushing for an increase in the federal gas tax. The additional 6-cent county tax would bring in about $3.8-million for each penny, or about $23-million a year for as long as 20 years, according to county estimates. Revenue from 5 cents would be split with the county's 24 cities. The sixth cent is collected entirely by the county.

    When commissioners began discussing the tax option in June, the average price of gas in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area was $1.43 a gallon, according to travel organization AAA. Now, that average price is $1.62.

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