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Federal gas tax increase or a distance-based charge

Answers to aging infrastructure may include higher federal gas taxes, which is under "an increasingly rancorous debate," the Wall Street Journal (1/16, Conkey) reports. A special panel convened by Congress on Tuesday "recommended more than doubling the tax" over a five-year period to increase available funding for transportation infrastructure fixes.

Under the recommendation, the current tax of 18.4 cents per gallon for unleaded gasoline would be increased annually for five years — by anywhere from 5 cents to 8 cents each year — and then indexed to inflation afterward to help fix the infrastructure, expand public transit and highways as well as broaden railway and rural access.

However, the panel cannot even reach consensus among themselves. Three of the members "
"are adamantly opposed to" the recommended gas-tax increases. They claim that the federal role in funding transportation should be reduced in favor of that of states, which "should rely on toll increases and private investment to supplement the funds" from existing gas taxes. The Journal notes.

Another recommendation by the panel is to study the possibility of replacing the gas tax in the long run (for instance, by 2025) with a system to charge drivers per mile their cars are driven, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (1/15, Hart). Distance-based charges have been advocated by a string of prominent organizations and experts, who say that relying on the gas tax can be increasingly a problem because of the growing popularity of hybrids, improving gas mileage, and efforts to lower dependence on foreign oil [Jerry: Are these really problems?]. One concern about the distance-based charges, though, is about the protection of privacy, because such a system means tracking where people drive [with GPS].


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Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs