Americans will support some higher gas taxes -- maybe
June 25, 2015
• But just under certain conditions
• “U.S. policymakers face a dilemma”
The majority of Americans will support higher gasoline taxes, but only if the revenue is invested in specific transportation improvements that people value, according to just-released research from the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University.
Two proposed federal bills would raise gas tax rates.
One bill, HR 1846, would index the gas tax to inflation and create a bi-partisan, bi-cameral transportation commission that would provide long-term funding of the Highway Trust Fund. That bill is currently in the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.
Another proposed bill, HR 680, would increase the gas tax by five cents per year for three years. That bill is with the House Committee on Ways and Means.
“These survey results show that a majority of Americans would support higher taxes for transportation, but only under certain conditions,” says study co-author Asha Weinstein Agrawal. “For example, a gas tax increase of 10 cents per gallon to improve road maintenance was supported by 71 percent of respondents, whereas support levels dropped to just 31 percent if the revenues were to be used more generally to maintain and improve the transportation system.”
Specific taxes tested were ten 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.
“U.S. policymakers face a dilemma,” says Hilary Nixon, co-author. “Transportation revenues available from state and federal gas taxes have fallen significantly, especially in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars per mile traveled. At the same time, the transportation infrastructure requires critical and expensive system upgrades.”
That dilemma offers only two possible resolutions, say the San Jose State experts. 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.
About the survey
The random-digit-dial telephone survey tested national support for federal gas, mileage, and sales 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.
A total of 1,503 adults completed the 2015 survey in either English or Spanish between Feb. 26 and March 31. For the full sample, which included both land-line and cell-phone numbers, the margin of error was ± 2.53 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.
The full research report provides in-depth analysis of the survey results, reviewing trends in support across the six annual surveys, and investigating how the revealed opinions may vary according to respondents’ socio-demographic, political, and travel-behavior characteristics.