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Great post. I have a different perspective I want to offer from Seattle.

WA and OR have seen *declines* in VMT (aggregate or per capita I forget, but Sightline.org has the data) for ~11 years. I suspect the same will happen soon in the Northeast if it hasn't started already. It's true that this must mean less wear on our transportation infrastructure, but more acutely, it means falling gas tax revenue. (WA last raised its gas tax in 2005, and the increase survived an initiative challenge) Drivers favoring more efficient cars, and hybrids and electrics, exacerbates this. There's a general consensus that further gas tax increases are futile, though I don't know if there's been real consideration of shifting to a sales tax instead of excise (which would have larger implications due to our state constitution).

A sales tax on gas is an interesting proposition because it not only keeps up with inflation, but keeps up with gas prices and partly offsets drops in gas consumption and increases in fuel-efficiency. To the extent that people buy less gas because its price rises; a sales tax on gas keeps the revenue steady. Five gallons @ $4 = four gallons @ $5. This could really help in the peak oil era.

What WA seems to be moving toward is much more extensive tolling, which I think is another great component of the stool of transportation funding components we need. I know Eric Cantor would freak, but we need to phase in tolling of all the interstates. This affects all vehicles equally and reduces driving (or encourages more efficient choices) rather than gas consumption.

OR has at least experimented with VMT taxes, which Jim Oberstar advocated. We need these too. Taxes or fees based on pollution/emissions would make sense, as do progressive taxes on cars or their registrations. "Car taxes" went through a period of demonization, reduction, and elimination; but we're going to need them back. Until 2000 WA had a tax that charged owners a small percentage of their car's value each year. That adds needed progressivity to the mix of tolls, gas taxes, and VMT taxes.

In the meantime, the federal gas tax is much too low. Ross Perot proposed a 50 cent increase in 1992. George Bush's own transpo revenue commission recommended a 40 cent increase around 2005. We need a substantial increase to make the Highway Trust Fund self-sustaining again, but then we need to add these other revenue sources to fund a more sustainable transportation network less focused on cars.

by Jon Morgan on Sep 7, 2011 7:27 pm • linkreport

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