Monday, March 9, 2009

Gas Tax

The Oregonian focuses today on the gas tax. A gas tax is the right idea, but tying it to road improvements is dumb for two reasons. First, as we have just seen, dedicated funds tie government's hands (well, maybe not so much - see the Cultural Trust - but this just illustrates the point) and make government less effective and efficient. Second, a gas tax is an appropriate tax to address carbon emissions, less so for road wear and tear, so tying it to road maintenance and construction is, well, inappropriate.

I am sure there are lots of political reasons that this makes sense, but sometimes I wonder why legislative leaders don't try and act more boldly. How about instituting a 5% gas tax that goes into the general fund? This is a lot yes, and some mechanism for helping out less wealthy rural residents (who have to drive more) will have to be figured out, but it is a lot less than the $1 a gallon tax James Hansen recommends. Besides, look at the Measure 57 fiasco from the last election: Democrats were so worried about 61 they pushed 57 and now we have a costly mandate in a time when we are cutting essential services (like courts). We now know that 61 would have likely failed on its own.

Oregon wants to be serious about growing a green economy? Let's start be being the first to seriously address the carbon issue. Oh and hey, this is a perfect time to let drivers pump their own. Prices will fall and Dems can show that they are not always 'big government' proponents.


MPPBrian said...

There are a couple reasons new revenue from a gas tax increase cannot and should not go into the general fund.

First, the Oregon constitution restricts money from motor fuels taxes to be used for roads. Changing this would require a constitutional amendment and a vote of the people, so we wouldn't get any of the money until November 2010.

Second, our roads are not in great shape. For many years, cities, counties, and state transportation leaders have complained that the gas tax does not generate enough revenue to maintain the roads we have now. We have resorted to lottery bonding to fix our cracked bridges. Since the gas tax is the only realisitc way to pay for increased investment in road maintenance, any increases in this tax should be dedicated to roads.

That being said, once we've taken care of our infrastructure needs, I wouldn't be opposed to some sort of carbon tax to discourage global warming, as long as it applied to all carbon sources, not just gasoline. But I think we should take care of first things first and fix our transportation financing system.

Patrick Emerson said...

Thanks MPPBrian,

I did not know of this constitutional restriction. I suppose I give too little creedence to the other side of the debate which is it forces government to invest in things that are easily cut for political expediency.

Either way, I say increase the gas tax!