Don’t raise gas tax.

WTF! What is he talking about! Of course raise gas tax! Then people won’t buy as much gas, and might take public transportation, walk, bike, hop, crawl, or cartwheel wherever they are going.

Well, uh.

Sure, a gas tax would decrease some people’s fuel consumption. In fact this NYT article reports that an extra 28 pennies per gallon would decrease consumption by 10% for 14 years. That basically means we get an extra year’s use out of our supply per 10 years we keep an increased tax.

But the problems here are two-fold. First off, it’s a flat tax. People at all income levels have to drive (yes, sometimes people have to drive). Rich folks will soak up the new tax, perhaps with a few grumbles. But others will have to budget it into their weekly lives. It’ll certainly stop some from driving as much. But some won’t have a choice. (There are many reasons for this, and it’s not just location: what if they have kids in school, and the only way to get home in time to cook them dinner is by driving, as public transit would drop them off an hour later? We don’t want to deprive kids from getting a home-cooked meal, do we? etc.) Ok, so it’s unfair.

Also, say we raise gas tax now. What happens when the majority of cars finally do use alternative sources of fuel. Then states, and perhaps the feds, will enact disincentive taxes. No this isn’t just any ol’ red state, this includes Cali-fucking-fornia. The fact is, gas tax is already a dependable source of tax revenue for state and federal governments. And it’s not just for mass transit: less than 1/5 of federal gas tax goes to mass transit. Most of it goes to highway maintenance and construction, but throughout the history of federal gas tax, a whole lot has gone to general funds and deficit reduction.

If gas tax is increased, government dependance on gas tax will increase too. It will be harder to encourage use of hybrids, because they’ll have to use (more and more) disincentive taxes to cover the differences. In fact, as more people began to use hybrids, the shock to tax revenue would grow, and so would the disincentives. We’d see a leveling off in use of hybrids, maybe even a regression.

No, i’m not crazy, I understand highways need maintenance, and so as more and more people aren’t paying gas taxes, new sources of funding will be needed to maintain them. But these new sources shouldn’t prevent people from switching to hybrids, and the like. In the short run, an increased gas tax can’t be the way to decrease long-term gas consumption.

Leave a Comment