See Ya Later, Gas Tax

So President Bush now wants to cut gasoline use by 20 percent. What's not to love about that? Here's one thing, if you're in the state ...
by | January 24, 2007
 

So President Bush now wants to cut gasoline use by 20 percent. What's not to love about that?

Here's one thing, if you're in the state and local government sector. Revenues from gas taxes, which are levied by the gallon, bring in $35 billion a year for transportation projects. Lop off 20 percent, and you're down $7 billion.

States are already stretched thin on funds for transportation -- look no further than the current craze for selling off toll roads and turnpikes. Now the pinch seems likely to grow steadily, if gradually, worse.

What this points out is the great irony surrounding one of our worthiest environmental goals. Hybrid cars, alternative fuels and greater fuel economy are good things. But they also undermine the way we currently finance transportation infrastructure in this country. Add to that the reluctance of state legislators to allow gas taxes to keep pace with inflation, and you have a tax that is no longer  viable for the modern world of politics and environmental policy.

States need to adapt. One interesting idea comes from Oregon, which is testing a way to use technology to levy taxes by the mile rather than by the gallon. Other states, such as Texas, see partnerships with the private sector as the way to get new roads built. Also, expect to see a lot more toll roads across the country, whether they're run by the states or by private vendors.

It's an obvious point, but one that American taxpayers somehow can't seem to remember: somebody has to pay for the roads they drive on.

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