Despite the governor’s opposition, the Democratic majority in Santa Fe still wants a higher state gasoline tax. (With some GOPers along for the ride.) And on June 5, city councilors in Albuquerque will consider whether the city will become the Land of Enchantment’s first local-government entity to impose its own gasoline tax.
Here we go again.
The Rio Grande Foundation has produced a wide variety of research on transportation and fuel-tax issues. We’ve explained how current “infrastructure” projects are artificially inflated for favored interests, how revenue from gasoline taxes is diverted to unrelated expenditures, and why the private sector needs to become more involved in roads and highways.
But there’s another aspect of the debate worth exploring: Are “green” vehicles paying their fair share?
As the Pew Research Center notes, with “the rise of fuel-efficient vehicles, many states are looking for alternative sources of money to build and maintain their roads, bridges and other infrastructure.” The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 10 states (Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming) tack an additional registration fee onto electric and/or hybrid vehicles.
Why should “clean” vehicles pay up? Because the notion that gas taxes somehow correct for the negative environmental externalities of conventional engines is baseless. Even the EPA admits that when compared with “1970 vehicle models, new cars, SUVs and pickup trucks are roughly 99 percent cleaner” in the release of “hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particle emissions.”
Eco-concerns aside, the gasoline tax was never a perfect user fee to maintain and expand roads and highways. Buy fuel for your lawnmower or ATV or generator, and you’ll pay the tax, even though the machines don’t impose any wear and tear on asphalt.
A true user fee would track the number of miles traveled, as well as the weight, of each vehicle. Revenue would be collected electronically, at the end of every month. The system would replace — repeat, replace — the taxes now levied on gasoline and diesel by government at the local, state, and federal levels. And it would neither favor nor penalize any type of fuel used. Gasoline, diesel, natural gas, electricity, or hydrogen wouldn’t matter.
But to get to a such a policy, revenue-ravenous pols would have to stop thinking that the “answer” to every transportation “problem” is a higher gasoline tax. Yes, that’s asking a lot. But as the recent vote on a tax for sugar-sweetened beverages in Santa Fe showed, greedy government can go only so far before citizens push back.