Gallup recently ran a poll with the following result:
When you break it down by demography (unfortunately, there are no crosstabs), what struck me is the economic differences: people who make between $25,000 – $59,000 annually are much more opposed to gas taxes compared to those who make over $95,000, or those less than $25,000:
I think there are two factors at work here. First, among the under $25,000 group, I’m thinking that’s a disproportionately urban group that uses public transportation, and so, isn’t exposed to gas prices on a regular basis. Second, the $25,000 – $59,000 really feels the pinch of those price increases. Sure, nobody wants to pay more in taxes–like my Uncle Harry used to say, rich or poor it’s always good to have money–but it’s a real bite for the middle class, especially on the lower end. Given the centrality of driving for most Americans, there is simply no way to dramatically reduce the amount of gasoline consumed. Maybe you take less long distance trips and such, but this is basically the equivalent of charging a breathing tax–you simply need to do it.
It’s also worth noting that the hidden cost of transportation is enormous*. While I don’t think people realize those costs explicitly, any increase in transportation costs is acutely felt–and it strikes people as unfair because there isn’t much they can do to significantly lower those costs.
Put another way, there is no way to separate gas tax policy from housing and development policy. Good luck with that…
*To put this in (local, for me) perspective, the cost of housing in neighborhoods such as Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the North and South Ends is extremely high. The cost of housing plus transportation in large swathes of those neighborhoods is actually lower than in most of the entire state, including almost all areas in the surrounding suburbs (the exceptions are the surrounding towns that are essentially urban in terms of population). Cars (and their maintenance, insurance, repair, etc.) are expensive beasts.