Note to Readers: This is the fourth installment of a five-part series on tax policy prospects in the states in 2014. This series, written by the staff of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), highlights state proposals for “tax swaps,” tax cuts, and tax reforms. This post focuses specifically on proposals to increase or reform state gasoline taxes.
Six states and the District of Columbia enacted long-overdue gas tax increases or reforms last year, despite the tough politics involved in raising the price drivers pay at the pump. Will 2014 bring the same level of legislative activity on the gas tax? Maybe not; but there are a number of states where the issue is receiving serious attention.
Delaware: Governor Jack Markell of Delaware is pushing for a 10 cent increase in his state’s gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in over 19 years. The idea faces an uphill battle in the legislature, but without the increase the Delaware Department of Transportation’s capital budget will have to be slashed by about 33 percent next year. Delaware’s House Minority leader would rather raid the state’s general fund budget (most of which goes toward education and health care) as opposed to addressing the state’s transportation revenue problems directly through reforming the gas tax.
Iowa: Governor Terry Branstad isn’t going to lead the fight for a gas tax increase, but he won’t veto one, either, if it makes it to his desk. Last week, an Iowa House subcommittee unanimously passed a 10 cent gas tax hike just a few hours before Branstad made clear his intention to remain on the sidelines during this important election-year tax debate.
Kentucky: Governor Steve Beshear wants to reverse a 1.5 cent gas tax cut that went into effect last month as a result of falling gas prices (Kentucky is one of eighteen states where the tax rate changes alongside either gas prices or inflation). Doing so would raise about $45 million in additional funds to invest in the state’s transportation infrastructure. And putting a “floor” on the gas tax to prevent further declines in the tax rate could avoid up to $100 million in funding cuts in the next two years.
New Hampshire: The chair of New Hampshire’s Senate Transportation Committee wants to raise the gas tax and index it to inflation. The tax has been stuck at 18 cents per gallon for over twenty-two years, and the commissioner of the state’s Department of Transportation is optimistic that could finally change this year. Governor Maggie Hassan hasn’t been a major player in the push for a higher gas tax, but it seems likely she would sign an increase if it made it to her desk.
Utah: Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser is rightly concerned about the fact that “more and more money is coming out of the state's general fund for transportation,” and would like to reform the state’s gas tax to provide transportation with a sustainable revenue stream of its own. Familiar concerns about not wanting to hike the gas tax in an election year have been raised, but Governor Gary Herbert seems to realize that some kind of change to the gas tax is needed. To provide some context to this debate, we recently found that Utah’s gas tax is currently at an all-time low, after adjusting for inflation.
Washington: Last year’s unsuccessful push to raise the gas tax in Washington State has spilled over into the current legislative session. Governor Jay Inslee still supports raising the tax, and House and Senate leaders have spent a significant amount of time trying to cobble together an acceptable compromise.
But while these six states are the most likely to act this year, they’re hardly the only places where the gas tax is generating a lot of interest. In Oklahoma, both of the state’s largest newspapers have urged lawmakers to consider gas tax reform, as has the Oklahoma Policy Institute and the Oklahoma Academy. In Minnesota, the commissioner of the Department of Transportation wants to see the gas tax rise on a yearly basis, and a coalition has been formed seeking more revenue for transportation. The chairman of the South Carolina Senate Finance Committee supports a gas tax hike, as does the chair of New Mexico’s Transportation and Public Works Committee, some members of New Jersey’s legislature, and the editorial boards of both New Mexico’s and New Jersey’s largest newspapers. And in Michigan, Governor Snyder’s laudable attempt to raise the gas tax last year has stalled, though it remains a topic of discussion in the Wolverine State.
Altogether, thirty-two states levy unsustainable flat-rate gas taxes, twenty-four states have gone a decade or more without raising their gas tax, and sixteen of those states have gone two decades or more without an increase. With so many states reliant on outdated gas tax structures, there’s little doubt that reforming the tax will remain a major topic of discussion for the foreseeable future.
Photo via herzogbr Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0