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Yes, You Can Move the Needle on Public Support for a Gas Tax Hike

support for increasing the federal gas tax rises if revenues will be
spent to combat global warming. Graphic: Mineta Transportation Institute

week, USA Today reported rather gleefully that the
U.S. gas tax has never been lower
. Having remained unchanged at
18.4 cents per gallon since 1993, American drivers are now paying half
as much in inflation-adjusted gas taxes, per 1,000 miles driven, that
they did in 1975. We can pretty much forget about investing in new and
expanded transit systems -- or even just holding up our bridges -- as
long as this is the case.

USA Today also cited a recent national survey by the Mineta
Transportation Institute, which pegged public support for a 10-cent gas
tax increase at a paltry 23 percent. Thanks to a post from Streetsblog
Network member TrailBlog,
penned by Steve Schweigerdt of the Rails to Trails Conservancy, we have
a more complete -- and interesting -- picture of what this survey
actually revealed. Schweigert reports from a recent panel discussion
about the survey:

A couple key points from the survey were that:

  • Linking transportation tax to environmental benefits will
    increase support, specifically if the tax helps address global warming.
  • Support for gas taxes can be significantly increased with good
    program design.

The panelists portrayed the gas tax increase as a needed
short-term fix, but a restructuring of transportation financing is
necessary for long-term investment in the system. William Millar [of the
American Public Transit Association] reminded the audience that we
shouldn't assume that the way things are can never change. We spent the
last 60 years building the system we have, he said, and we can spend the
next 60 building a better system.

You can download
the survey results here
. Of particular note: Support for the
10-cent gas tax hike rose to 42 percent if the revenue would be spent to
reduce global warming. The survey also gauged public opinion on a
mileage tax, finding that support increased from 21 percent to 33
percent if the rate would vary according to the fuel efficiency of the

Tellingly, Americans seem more willing to tax everything they
purchase than to pay for transportation infrastructure by taxing
driving: A half-cent national sales tax enjoyed the highest support of
all the options given, at 43 percent.

But the big takeaway from the Mineta survey is that a national gas
tax hike gains support if you make a strong case for how the revenue
will be spent. Should some national political figure come along and
deliver a compelling public message that we need to raise the gas tax to
invest in cleaner, more efficient transportation, move us away from oil
addiction, and keep our existing infrastructure from falling apart, who
knows, maybe you could break the 50 percent threshold.

course, seeing as how most Americans mistakenly already
think the gas tax goes up regularly
, and gas prices have fluctuated within a
24-cent range
in just the last three months, you could also reach
the conclusion espoused in this
classic Infrastructurist post
: Just raise the g-dd-mned gas tax

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