Apparently Mr. Trump and the feds are finally thinking of raising the federal gasoline tax by 25 cents per gallon. I think that is a nice try, but I also think that the tax should have been raised many years ago to supplement the program that provides funds to states for highway and bridge construction and repairs.
Most people are not at all concerned about the price of gasoline. I often drive to Kansas City along I-70 and most people are going at least 80 mph and quite a few a bit more. If they were concerned about the price of gas, they would drive slower in order to get better gas mileage. Today’s cars may get better mileage due to aerodynamics and engineering, but I don’t think that going 80 mph is a gas-saving technique.
One really good reason that they should have raised the gas tax many years ago is that there actually have been many improvements made to our vehicles and we are getting better mileage. That means that we can buy less gas than we used to buy which translates to lower tax collections.
Another good reason is that owners of electric vehicles either buy a lot less gas for their hybrid engines or they buy no gas at all for their all-electric engines. Volvo is promising to produce only electric vehicles sometime soon and I believe other manufacturers will follow.
With insufficient gasoline taxes, our roads are not fully funded for construction and repairs. It also means that hundreds of thousands of workers are not as well employed as they would be if we were fully funding our highway system. The gasoline tax pays back far better than it costs because it allows us to have a great road system and safe bridges and lots of high-paying jobs.
So, with the threat of fewer people paying a gasoline tax or paying less tax because of better vehicles or going electric or even going to a hydrogen cell, another solution is rising. There is talk of taxing everyone based on miles driven. I am not certain how they intend to determine those numbers, but I assume that we either will have to report our monthly mileage or they can just get it from smart devices in our vehicles.
This sounds onerous, but since it could spread the tax over nearly everyone in the country, the actual tax per mile could be very low. I think that such a tax is a good idea, but the devil is always in the details. The details here involve collecting the mileage data from every person who may be driving a vehicle.
While they are at it, I hope that they base the tax on a range of vehicle weights because heavier vehicles obviously do more damage to our roads than lighter vehicles. In fact, we have to build roads that are far more sufficient for normal passenger vehicles because those same roads carry very heavy vehicles which do most of the damage.
I have thought about whether it was necessary to include bicyclists in this new taxing concept, but, in reality, most bicyclists also drive vehicles and would be paying a tax on those miles. Besides, a good bicycle with a rider barely weighs 200 pounds and does absolutely no damage to our roads, not even our gravel roads.
I am all in favor of a higher gasoline tax or even shifting to a mileage tax for all vehicles because we need safe highways. We also need to keep employing the hundreds of thousands of workers that keep our highways safe.
Matt Nowak is a retired natural resources specialist and lives in Lansing.