A Hypothesis As To Why People Hate Gas Taxes

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.

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4 Responses to A Hypothesis As To Why People Hate Gas Taxes

  1. coeruleus says:

    I’m all for gas tax increases. 20 cent increase per year for the next 10 years, in fact, would be my preferred tax scheme! However, I might also be opposed to the *state* increasing those taxes since thru-traffic would buy their gas in other states. I don’t drive much so I can’t say that I’d be personally stuck with the bill, but other locals would be stuck with paying for good roads that thru-traffic doesn’t pay for [yes, there’s tolls, but I’ve lived in the West too long to like tolls, and think they should be gotten rid of entirely]. A federal increase, OTOH…

  2. dr2chase says:

    Whatever costs you see for cars surely understates them. Commuting by car increases your mortality rate (+39%, versus biking to work, adjusting for risk factors). The noise has costs, and being run into (kills 3000 pedestrians per year) has costs.

    Contra coeruleus, I think tolls would be a fine idea, if we did it all with automated license-plate readers or GPS.

  3. Vene says:

    This tax is way too regressive and disproportionately harms rural communities.

  4. Seriously, if burning less fossil fuels through the use of monetary
    coercion is a worthy goal, then why not forget the gas tax and go directly to doing what we all know we have to do to survive as a species – build the renewable energy infrastructure (already!) with government money.

    You want people to use less carbon fuels? Build a public green utility and offer the electricity for free. If you could heat your home with free electric baseboard heating, or pay ever more for your oil or gas furnace, which would you do?

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