Another Take on Gas Taxes

By John Fischer

John Fischer of Palatine, Ill., a global engine consultant, is a regular reader of Rock Products who has emailed us a number of comments over the years. He submitted the following rebuttal to some of the points raised in our June Guest Editorial, “Once Again We Need to Ask: Is the Gas Tax Obsolete?” – and to offer additional clarifications on topics covered. – Ed. 

I would open this discussion by noting that the author mentions his first efforts at raising the issue as a concern a full nine years ago – with limited interest at the time – and that we have somehow managed to get along over these ensuing years without any fundamental changes being made.

An initial point he suggests is the unfairness of charging a gas tax on products not using the roads. Farm equipment mentioned specifically. The reality is that there are programs in place where this group can be reimbursed for these taxes. Also mentioned are lawn mowers and I would suggest that in the grand scheme of things the little added cost for fueling these would be of little concern to most of us.

Mentioned is the fact that there are now 1.74 million “electric” cars on the highways. With an overall population on our (U.S.) roadways of close to 300 million vehicles – this is a relatively small number. I would further question what is included in the 1.74 number. If this includes hybrids – utilizing an engine – this group would of course be making some contribution by way of fuel taxes. Albeit smaller if they are able to get their vehicles fully charged overnight before venturing out in the morning.

However this suggests a very clear path forward for getting a fair share from these two segments – fully-electric and hybrid-electric – by means of a simple assessment of some sort. Perhaps at time of purchase or maybe at the time of (annual) licensing. The fully electric amount would of course need to be higher.

Which leads to the tax credit mentioned for purchasers of these “electric vehicles”. I would suggest that this overall is a travesty and burden upon those that will not be purchasing an electric vehicle and these bonuses are a temporary thing that in time will be played out. Fortunately for the many drivers who are simply looking for an effective means to travel from place to place in comfort and at a reasonable cost.

Returning to a more macro look at things – the author does not mention where the federal taxes collected are actually distributed and a closer look reveals that a good portion goes to such things as “mass transit.” And yes this would indeed suggest that a rancher in Montana is subsidizing a train system somewhere on the East Coast. Any discussion of the federal tax failures should raise this important fact and few of them seem to do so. This counteracting dynamic seems to be a reason that this continues to be an uncomfortable “political” topic.

And here might be a good point to transition to the suggestion made that the individual state taxes are experiencing the same “crisis.” In fact the states tend to have more control of the distribution of their funds and seem to be quite more astute at directing gas tax funds to actual road work done in their states. And overall there has been a recent tendency for states to raise fuel taxes to gather needed funds and take care of the basic road needs of their constituents without looking toward the federal tax for additional assistance.

In regard to the general point that this crisis is only going to worsen as we go along because there are going to be ever greater numbers of electric vehicles: the preponderance of electric vehicles seems to be in “select” areas – for example, California – and it doesn’t seem to be prudent to upend things around the country just to cater to these particular groups.

And I would note a reality now setting in for Californians as apparently one in five purchasers of new Tesla’s are trading them in due to battery charging issues for something offering the flexibility provided by something using an engine – and thereby paying fuel taxes once again.

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