Because lawmakers are always looking for ways to raise revenue, it’s surprising that state and federal governments don’t often use the fuel tax option. In fact, the last time a state gas tax increase was signed into law was in 2009, when lawmakers in North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia all agreed that their gas tax rates needed to go up.
What this lack of funding caused was decades of under-investment in the country’s infrastructure, resulting in many states now being faced with enormous maintenance and repair bills…and no money to do the job. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the U.S. will face an $846 billion shortfall in funding for road and surface upkeep by 2020. In their efforts to avoid a public backlash from an irate public blaming lawmakers for the high price of gasoline if they raised gas taxes, the states now have no choice but to seriously debate the issue and, most likely, raise fuel taxes to raise revenue.
In February, Governor Matt Mead of Wyoming signed into law a 10¢ per gallon gasoline tax increase in his state, and, following that action, the floodgates seemed to open across the country. Lawmakers in 8 more states are in the process of raising gasoline taxes in 2013: Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington. The legislation in 4 of the states are allowing the tax to rise over time, automatically adjusting the tax rates as the cost of asphalt, concrete, machinery and everything else tied to inflation goes up. Other states that are now debating the gasoline tax issue and also expected to raise the rates this year are Minnesota, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Critics of the taxing legislation say that with gasoline prices already high and the economy not exactly booming, this is the wrong time to hit working Americans at the pump. Especially hard-hit will be professional drivers who face uncertainty when trying to forecast budget expenses. Proponents of the hikes say that these taxes are needed to keep a vehicle-dependent economy rolling along smoothly.
The debate will continue. The days of kicking the gas can down the road as our roads and bridges crumble appear to be coming to an end.