Pete Buttigieg, who used to be the mayor of a midsize town in Indiana but is now Joe Biden’s nominee to be Secretary of Transportation, is in confirmation hearings this morning. One of the topics broached was the gasoline tax.
(Full disclosure: This is a blog for people who are interested in paying taxes for a better society. If your idea of a good country is one with zero taxes, then please close this tab now, there’s nothing for you here.)
Some background: The federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993. It is 18.4 cents per gallon. State gas taxes, of course, vary pretty widely, with the highest being California’s at 62.4 cents per gallon and the lowest in Alaska, at 13.7 cents per gallon.
Other sources have slightly different numbers; the state numbers are immaterial to my point, however, since I am here to say that the federal gas tax should be higher, period.
The federal number is not indexed to inflation, for one thing, which means that 18.4 cents in 1993 is equivalent to 34 cents in 2021. The issue is also often weirdly politicized as something the liberals want, but people like former President Donald Trump thought it might be a good idea at one point; so did former GM executive Bob Lutz.
In today’s hearing, Buttigieg did not give a direct answer when asked about the prospect of raising it.
But then afterward Buttigieg’s office clarified that, in fact, all options are not on the table:
I am here to say: Raise the damn gas tax already. We could use the money to fix our shit infrastructure for one thing; cars are more fuel-efficient than ever is another thing; we want to encourage the adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles to save the damn planet is the third thing and I guarantee you even car enthusiasts would not notice if the federal gas tax doubled tomorrow to 36.8 cents per gallon since 18.4 cents per gallon is more or less in the range of normal gas price fluctuations.
Doubling would at least catch it up with inflation and give us billions more to spend on making our infrastructure better. It may possibly fund subsidies for electric vehicles as well. And then after doubling it, please tie the tax to the consumer price index so we never have to have this conversation ever again.