Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What To Do About Gasoline Taxes

Source: http://local4traffic.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/gas20tax.jpg

Every time you buy a gallon of gasoline in California you pay 18.4 cents to the federal government and 18 cents to the State (more actually, but it's complicated). These taxes are not indexed to inflation and have not been raised since the early 1990s.

The main reason why we have these gasoline excise taxes is to pay for road construction and maintenance. Yet, "66% of California’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition" according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

This suggests that for roads to be well maintained, gasoline taxes, or some other tax (like a vehicle miles traveled tax), would have to rise, or roads would have to charge tolls. While this may sound great at first to people like me who want to discourage automobile use, I've somewhat recently come to the realization that raising gasoline taxes or tolls can be a very mixed blessing, and that, on the whole, gasoline taxes have done more to promote driving in the United States than to hinder it, because they have paid for the infrastructure that makes driving possible.

What we have today is a situation where most people love to drive, but are not willing to pay an amount in gasoline taxes sufficient to keep up the roads. This is a dangerous game, since poorly maintained infrastructure can collapse with deadly results. However, any attempt to raise gasoline taxes must take into account what the money is spent on.

If the money is spent on road maintenance and environmental protection (such as subsidizing alternatives to the car and cleaner cars) I say it's fine. But if the gasoline taxes are used to expand roads, I say NO NEW TAXES!!!

One advantage of hardly driving and/or a fuel efficient car, by the way, is you get to pay less to expand the roads.

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