While Congress Dawdles With Stopgap Transportation Bill, Poll Shows 77 Percent Against Raising Gas Tax and 58 Percent Prefer Tolls Over Taxes


The Hill reports:  

The Senate approved the extension of federal highway funding that was passed by the House on Thursday, accepting a short-term solution leaders in the chamber vehemently opposed. 

The measure, H.R 4281, now goes to President Obama. It extends the current funding for road and transit projects until June 30, the ninth such continuance of the last multiyear highway authorization that was approved by Congress, which expired in 2009. …

The approval of the highway funding stopgap averts an interruption in the federal government's authorization to collect the 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax, which had been set to expire Saturday. The money is traditionally used to fund transportation projects. 

While Congress seems unwilling to pass a long-term transportation bill or agree how to pay for it, theDecember 2011 Reason-Rupe poll found 77 percent of Americans oppose increasing the federal gas tax, while 19 percent favor raising the tax. 

The Reason-Rupe poll shows Americans believe new roads and highways should be paid for by the people driving on them: 58 percent of Americans say new roads and highways should be funded by tolls. Twenty-eight percent say new road capacity should be paid for by tax increases.  

The public thinks the government wastes the gas tax money it already receives. Sixty-five percent say the government spends transportation funding ineffectively, and just 23 percent say the money is spent effectively.

Full Reason-Rupe December 2012 poll results found here, and full question wording here.

Emily Ekins is the director of polling for Reason Foundation where she leads the Reason-Rupe public opinion research project, launched in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @emilyekins.

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  1. Shouldn’t the headline be “40% of people polled by Reason don’t know money is fungible”?

    1. It’s all about the incentives, though. See my post below.

  2. Assuming they are not stolen and used for dog parks and public libraries, I believe fuel taxes are a fairly efficient user fee.

    1. And they are cheaper to collect than building new infrastructure and tracking it. Also, there’s less privacy concerns/deadweight loss associated with them.

      Additionally, there’s at least a rough correlation between fuel efficiency and impact on the road.

      I can’t think of a single way that tolls are a superior way of paying for roads. Tolls may be appropriate for congestion pricing, but that’s a whole different animal.

      1. “I can’t think of a single way that tolls are a superior way of paying for roads.”

        I can. The road is private, and the toll reflects the cost to the user for being able to use the road.

        Fuel taxes have characteristics of social engineering, which I am never okay with.

        1. Private roads are a myth. Systems of roads have always required government intervention. Also, how can tolls not have characteristics of social engineering? Things like dynamic pricing are used to adjust traffic flows, selective tolls from certain directions (see higher tolls from NJ into Manhattan vs. free bridges from Westchester or Long Island), pricing based on “2 axles good, four axles bad”, where the toll booths are placed, etc. It is naive to think that there’s no social engineering involved in tolls. Gas taxes are actually less prone to selective engineering because it’s simple and flat, you buy X amount of gas, you pay Y in taxes.

          1. I want full responsibility of the interstate highways and all other roads to be turned over to the states, and I prefer that the states sell limited access highways outright to private control- because limited access makes them easily toll-able. The owners, should they choose to continue operating the property as a highway, can incentivize behavior all they want with their pricing schemes.

            The development of what roads are expected to be today certainly required government intervention, but in the past it was common for roads to simply be in a state of publicly accessible existence that was formed by casual use and the users maintaining them to suit needs. A lot of road improvement was private cooperation, and certain state constitutions even prohibited infrastructure development funded by taxation. I could live just fine with a return to this system.

    2. Except they tend to use the funds for public transportation and idiotic light rail projects, rather than actual highway maintenance.

      1. How would tolls be immune to that? Money is fungible.

        1. Sure. I’m not saying tolls are immune to that, I’m just saying that gas taxes are not an efficient user fee because they get used for other things.

          1. So does the income from tolls. You’re bringing up a non-existent distinction.

    3. Except that the majority of wear on roads is by the weight of the vehicle.

      So people in comparatively light cars are subsidizing the heavy rigs that do all the damage.

  3. Why do I assume the people who want tolls believe they will benefit from the revenues generated without actually paying the toll themselves?

  4. If all the gas taxes collected [including state gas taxes] were use for just roads and bridges I’m sure there would be plenty of money.Instead,there thown into a big pot and spent where ever.I’m for getting rid of the federal tax and letting the states handle this.Repealing davis-bacon would help also

  5. Count me among the 19% that prefers the gas tax. So simple, no invasion of privacy, no complicated lane rules, no complicated scheduling, etc. The gas tax is probably the most libertarian tax there is. It’s a broad tax that everyone pays according to how much they use and the revenue is dedicated to a specific, well-defined function (road maintenance).

    It also incentivizes conservation**, by giving taxpayers the freedom to reduce (or even avoid in some cases) the tax by driving less, buying more efficient vehicles, etc.

    Unfortunately, it’s radioactive to even suggest it, so the solution will be one that takes yet another nibble of our freedom.

    **Not that I’m a tree hugger, but efficiency and less waste is a good thing.

    1. Road wear is a function of the weight of the vehicle, not the amount of travel.

      Why should commuters who contribute very little damage to the road be forced to subsidize the big rigs that do all the damage?

      1. Because most people get an uliltiy use of big rigs.

        Unless you grow your old food, using only your own personal fertilizer, sitch your own clothes, and transport yourself by building your own vechicle that runs on piss.

        1. Let the transportation of goods pay for the wear to the roads, and let that cost be reflected in the price of the goods.

      2. But the heavier the vehicle the more it uses in gas and so the more it pays in gas taxes. Its not exact but it does generally go that way.

        1. Those rigs may use four or five times as much gas per mile, but they do infinitely more damage to the roads.

      3. Weather and age actually does more to damage the roads than vehicle weight, so to that extent anyone who uses the roads should pay for that.

        1. “does” should be “do”

    2. “incentivizes conservation”

      This gets me a little concerned. I want the sole reason for a tax to be to fund government, not to incentivize behavior. Without a fuel tax, people still have incentive to use as little fuel as possible because of the cost, but artificially raising that cost to incentivize more of the “good thing” is not a moral role of government policy.

      1. Sure, the sole reason should never be to affect behavior, but all else being equal (which it seldom is), look at the incentives is all I’m saying. Incentives are the sole cause of “unintended consequences”.

        All of those options will incentivize some degree of conservation, but the gas tax incentivizes it in a way that preserves the most freedom. The HOV lanes, etc. presumably would require that you go buy a new hybrid or EV (or to carpool, which is a loss of freedom) to benefit. The fuel tax allows the taxpayer to go buy any vehicle that uses little fuel (e.g. an old beat up Geo Metro or a motorcycle) and still receive the tax benefits.

    3. +1. even accepting statist/utilitarian POV for a second, no tax is perfect. But the gas tax seems like the best one we actually have.

  6. As with all tolls and taxes, more people favor tolls because they believe the suckers using the tolls will help divert traffic on the public freeways. Its the same reason why people ‘support’ light rail.

  7. OT: Also, why the heck has Reason ignored the Pink Slime story? Shit is sick and is a prime example on how government is trying to interfer with market forces.

  8. While Congress seems unwilling to pass a long-term transportation bill or agree how to pay for it, theDecember 2011 Reason-Rupe poll found 77 percent of Americans oppose increasing the federal gas tax, while 19 percent favor raising the tax.


    Large majorities can always be found to support “let someone else pay.”

    As Mo notes above, the gas tax is easy to collect and roughly correlates with road usage and impact; alternatives are equally prone to diversion to other uses.

    1. My only gripe with the gas tax is that it isn’t transparent: you pay a shitload in gas taxes, but you never know how much.

      1. The government is exempt from mandatory labeling requirements

        1. Every gas pump I go to explicitly lists how much of the price of gas goes to taxes.

          1. Every gas pump I go to explicitly lists how much of the price of gas goes to taxes.

            Sure, but the suggested serving size is grossly undersized as usual.

            1. That was good.

          2. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that, myself.

  9. **Not that I’m a tree hugger, but efficiency and less waste is a good thing.

    I concur wholeheartedly.

  10. you pay a shitload in gas taxes, but you never know how much.

    I don’t know about Texas, but it seems to me every place I have lived the gas taxes are shown right on the front of the pump.

  11. Worst case: the government builds the toll road. Here in Marylandistan, the InterCounty Connector, which cost over $2 Billion and opened just last Fall, is already requiring repairs to its bridges. Usage is so low (probably due to the high tolls) that it is never expected to pay for itself. So it gets subsidized by tolls on I-95 and the Bay Bridge, both of which are unavoidable lifelines.

  12. The gas tax could be cut if the highway trust fund stoppoed paying for mass transit boodoggles, bike paths, community centers and such.

    It could be cut even further if we get rid of the Davis Bacon Act that forces gas tax paying drivers to pay for overpriced union labor on every federal construction project.

  13. Better dead than Red

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