The new year will bring a new fee for Arizona drivers.
Judging by the social media reaction, this fee has taken a lot of people by surprise. We verified six things you need to know about the "public safety fee."
How much is the new fee?
Starting Jan. 1, all Arizona car and truck owners will pay a $32 "public safety fee" when they renew their vehicle registration. We all pay the same fee, whether you own a $50,000 Mercedes-Benz or a $5,000 beater.
Drivers whose registration expires next month are getting the news in the mail right now.
What does the fee pay for?
The new fee pays for the Department of Public Safety's Highway Patrol.
Why is the fee needed now?
The Highway Patrol and statewide highway repairs are supposed to be paid for largely by gasoline taxes. But for at least a decade—through some tough times—state budgeteers have handed over the tax dollars to the Highway Patrol. Meantime, rural roads and bridges crumbled as repairs were put off.
Why not raise gasoline taxes?
Arizona Republicans don't like to raise taxes. So state gasoline taxes are stuck at 1991 levels. A new fee was more palatable, even though it's not as fair as a gas tax paid by all drivers.
Many legislative Republicans did object to the fee as a tax in disguise since it raises new revenue but without the required two-thirds vote by the Legislature.
The new fee does allow gas tax dollars to go to their original intended use of repairing roads and bridges.
Who decides the annual fee?
Under the law, the state director of transportation, John Halikowski, sets the fee every year, based on the Highway Patrol's annual budget. The fee could go up, down or sideways.
"It's a dynamic number," said Doug Nick, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation.
The fee will be reviewed at the beginning of every fiscal year, in July. It's based on the number of registration renewals in a given year and the Highway Patrol budget.
Why wasn't there any reporting on the fee?
I'm hearing from folks on social media, wondering why no one reported on this new fee. Gov. Doug Ducey signed the fee into law last April, while there was a bigger story dominating the news—the statewide teacher strike.
The bill's sponsor teased education supporters with the possibility that some of the fee proceeds might go to schools. We can verify that's not happening.