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Americans supporting higher gas taxes?

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

One would believe that Americans do not support increased taxes at the gas pump, however, a newly released Mineta Transportation Institute research report has said that the majority of Americans will support such taxes, but only if the revenue is invested in specific transportation improvements that people value. The results are from a national telephone survey from ‘What Do Americans Think About Federal Tax Options to Support Public Transit, Highways, and Local Streets and Roads? Results from Year Six of a National Survey.’

The two federal bills that are proposed would increase gas tax rates. One bill, HR 1846, would index the gas tax to inflation and create a bipartisan, bicameral transportation commission that would provide long term funding of the Highway Trust Fund. The bill is currently in the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. Another proposed bill, HR 680, would increase the gas tax by five cents/y for three years. That bill is with the House Committee on Ways and Means. If either bill is to gain support, legislators must be confident that increases in transportation taxes and fees would be politically feasible.

Report data

Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Series Director said, “these survey results show that a majority of Americans would support higher taxes for transportation, but only under certain conditions. For example, a gas tax increase of 10 cents/gal. to improve road maintenance was supported by 71% of respondents, whereas support levels dropped to just 31% if the revenues were to be used more generally to maintain and improve the transportation system.”

Specific taxes tested were 10 variations on raising the federal gas tax rate or creating a new mileage tax, as well as one option for creating a new federal sales tax. In addition, the survey collected standard sociodermographic data, some travel behaviour data, and respondents’ views on the quality of their local transportation system and their priorities for government spending on transportation in their state.

Hilary Nixon, Series Director commented, “US policymakers face a dilemma. Transportation revenues available from state and federal gas taxes have fallen significantly, especially in terms of inflation adjusted dollars per mile travelled. At the same time, the transportation infrastructure requires critical and expensive system upgrades.”

The dilemma offers only two possible resolutions. Either the nation must dramatically lower its goals for system preservation and enhancement, or new revenues must be raised. If the latter is to happen, legislators must craft the means to pass those bills in a form that Americans will support. These survey results can help to shed light on current public opinion.

Similar surveys

The telephone survey tested national support for federal gas, mileage, and sale tax options to raise revenue for transportation purposes. Multiple variations on the mileage tax and gas tax concepts were presented to test relative support levels among the options. The Mineta Transportation Institute has conducted similar surveys annually since 2010. Looking across the six years of survey data, support for all the taxes has risen modestly since 2010. From 2014 – 2015, support increased for nine tax options.

Edited from press release by Claira Lloyd

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