Increasing the Gas Tax

By Dom Nozzi

I have written many times about the large number of reasons why increasing the gas tax at the federal and state level is very important for achieving a number of important societal and transportation goals.

However, I am very, very wary of increasing transportation revenues for county government (and state and federal government) these days (in this case, via a gas tax), as I believe that strong majorities favor ruinous policies that are intended to make cars happy (largely by increasing road capacities). While most all American communities at least pay a lot of lip service to wanting to provide improvements for transit, bicyclists and pedestrians, the track record (even when there are “progressive elected majorities”) has been that when push comes to shove, everything takes a back seat to the imperative of making cars happier.traffic jam on huge hwy

As a result — sadly and regretfully — I am unable to trust local elected officials enough to give them more transportation cash. Nearly all of their voters (including most environmentalists) will demand that the extra cash be used to increase road capacities for cars (environmentalists will wrongly claim that doing so will reduce air emissions).

The only way to inhibit this downwardly spiraling path is to starve communities of transportation cash so that elected officials are forced to restrict themselves from voting to ruin the community (by building bigger roads). As was once said, it is only when you are short on money that you are forced to think and behave smartly. Because we’ve had so much money in the past, we’ve done a lot of things unthinkingly and ruinously.

It is time to smarten up.

Note that I’d be somewhat more comfortable if the gas tax revenues could be DEDICATED to non-car transportation improvements. However, I believe that doing so is a violation of state or federal law. America is unique in the sense that we are the only nation on earth that prohibits gas tax revenue from going to pay for anything besides transportation for happy cars.

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Filed under Economics, Politics, Transportation, Urban Design

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