Less driving undercuts raising the gas tax

Monday, July 12, 2010

The July 8 "Tax truths" editorial was right in pointing out that part of our country's transportation funding problem is due to the fact that gasoline taxes are not keeping pace with inflation. They are, therefore, effectively declining.

However, the editorial tripped up by stating that we're driving more miles.

We're not. In fact, the latest data from the Federal Highway Administration show that Americans drove 1.6 billion fewer miles over the first four months of this year than during the same period last year. This is not just a recessionary blip: We're down an astounding 14.7 billion miles driven from 2006 to 2010. Nor does it account for per capita changes. Driving is way down at the same time the population continues to increase.

As we drive less, and drive more fuel-efficient cars when we do venture out, we consume less gasoline (we're basically down to 2003 levels), which also means less revenue from the gas tax.

So while near-term gas tax increases are necessary on the federal and state levels just to stay afloat, we need to be thinking about a range of other options to raise transportation revenue such as pay-as-you-drive charges, tolls, congestion fees and -- most significant -- a carbon tax.

Robert Puentes, Falls Church

The writer is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program.

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