Poll: 10-Cent Gas Tax Hike to Improve Roads OK with Most Americans

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Terry Sheridan
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Would you rather put up with potholes and rush-hour commutes or pay higher taxes for better roads and public transit?

The Mineta Transportation Institute's sixth annual public opinion survey of 1,503 people about federal transportation tax issues indicates that 71 percent would approve of higher taxes for transportation if it was a 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike for road maintenance. But tax increases to reduce global warming got a thumbs-up from only 51 percent of respondents, and about a third would approve of tax increases for “undefined” transportation needs. And in this latter category, about half of the respondents would favor a sales tax increase over raising the gas tax or a new mileage tax.

“US policymakers face a dilemma,” said Hilary Nixon, PhD, an associate professor and chair of urban and regional planning at San Jose State University and co-author of the study. “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.”

The survey's key focus was to gauge support for a flat-rate mileage tax of 1 cent per mile and a flat 10-cent gas tax hike, compared to several variations on those proposals. One other option was for creating a new federal sales tax of 0.5 percent.

Respondents were offered two variations on the mileage tax and eight on the gas tax. The variations won far more support, according to the report.

So what are the variations? For the mileage tax, the options were the flat-rate 1 cent-per-mile (24 percent) or a variable rate based on vehicles' pollution output (44 percent). Creating a new federal sales tax of 0.5 percent received the support of 55 percent of respondents.

The gas tax variations were based on a 10-cent-per-gallon increase. Support from respondents included:

  • Revenues used for road maintenance (71 percent).
  • Revenues used for safety improvements (64 percent).
  • Revenues used for technological tools, like traffic alerts and light timing (59 percent).
  • Revenues used for targeted projects to cut air pollution caused by the transportation system (52 percent).
  • Revenues used for reduction of global warming (51 percent).
  • A 2-cent increase per year for five years (48 percent).
  • An increase based on 10,000 miles driven annually in a vehicle getting 20 miles per gallon (48 percent).
  • A flat 10-cent increase (31 percent).

The following subgroups in the survey all favored higher taxes:

  • Asian/Asian-American, African-American, Hispanic, and the youngest respondents.
  • Democrats and unregistered voters.
  • Those who didn't drive at all or drove the least.
  • People who drive fuel-efficient cars or take public transit.
  • Those who live where road conditions and public transit are good.
  • People who think governments should reduce traffic congestion, improve public transit and road safety, and install technological devices to improve traffic flow.

As this was the sixth survey since 2010, the report indicates that there is a “statistically significant” increase in support for all of the taxes except the flat-rate mileage tax. The option that varies the most in support over the years is a tax increase geared to pollution cutbacks, with a low of 30 percent support in 2010 and a high of 54 percent last year.

Lawmakers are facing an Oct. 29 deadline for renewing federal infrastructure spending. Increasing the federal gas tax, which has stayed at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993, is one of the options some lawmakers have proposed.

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