SB239: We could stand to raise the gas tax
One of the proposals before the Legislature this year is to increase the gas tax. That’s one of those sure-fire ways to provoke a strong reaction since we’re all pretty sensitive about the cost of driving. That said, I don’t think it’s really an increase. And at the risk of putting any kind of future electability in complete peril, I don’t have a problem with it at all.
Let me explain why. The gas tax is assessed as a certain amount per gallon. Currently, the state adds on 24.5 center per gallon. This was last adjusted back in 1997. Had that been adjusted for inflation, the gas tax would be somewhere in the 34 cent range right now, so we have effectively lost over a third of the purchasing power. Sharp increases in building materials during that time range due to economic booms in China and India have further reduced our purchasing power.
It’s not just that the tax dollars are worth less either. Vehicle miles driven have risen at twice the rate of population growth as we continue to move further and further into the suburbs. Average fuel efficiency for those miles driven has jumped by over 16%, so we’re paying less per mile on top of it. We’re all using more while paying less.
In short, we’ve effectively gotten a cut in gas taxes for the last 13 years despite causing an ever-increasing amount of transportation cost. The current proposal, SB239, would see to increase gas taxes immediately by 5 cents per gallon, then 5.75 cents per gallon in both 2012 and 2013 (see Deseret News article for details). This increase to 40 cents per gallon would make up for inflation and some of the price increases for materials and make for a healthier transportation budget. It also pushes more of the cost of maintenance onto users.
The gas tax is a touchy thing, but this looks like a solid proposal. We can’t afford to underfund this critical public infrastructure.