WE PAY A LOT OF TAXES; SOME SAY TOO MANY.
One federal tax that we all pay, however, has remained unchanged since 1993: gas tax.
That’s right. The fuel tax has been the same for the past 21 years at just 18.4 cents per gallon.
What else can you think of that is the same price since ’93? Nothing. This presents a serious problem for the American motoring public, especially motorcyclists. You see, that 18.4 cents per gallon you send to Washington every time you fill up goes into a fund that is allowed to grow for about six years. Congress then draws up legislation, commonly known as the highway bill, to spend the money. Each state gets back roughly what it puts in, and it’s used for road and bridge repair, new construction, and various other programs.
This is important stuff because, currently in the US, one in nine bridges is rate Structurally Deficient. The average age of America’s bridges is 42 years old. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that it would take $20.5 billion annually to bring nation’s bridges up to snuff. Currently, we only have $12.8 Billion on hand to spend, leaving the repair waiting list extending to 2028.
Part of the problem is that the state taxes on gas are high: the average state tax on gas is 49.5 cents per gallon. That’s two and a half times what the feds take. The other part of the problem is that Americans have done the unthinkable – driving less. US fuel sales peaked in 2007 have been going down ever since, leaving the highway out of money.
Don’t read this the wrong way. I’m not saying we should just throw money at the problem like most of Washington does, but we do need to fix this. Cars are getting better and better gas mileage, more people are riding motorcycles, we have electric and hybrid vehicle, and gas is more expensive. All of this adds up to Americans using less and less fuel, therefore pumping less and less money into the highway bill, and, ultimately, leaving us with crumbling roads and bridges.
One aspect of the fuel tax is that it’s levied against those who benefit from its expense. All of the money in the highway bill is spent on roads and road users. It doesn’t help offset a school lunch program or go for defense spending; it’s a true user fee. If you don’t use the roads in a gasoline-powered vehicle, you don’t pay into it. Ronald Reagan was staunchly opposed to raising the gas tax under his administration. When it was explained to him how it worked and why we needed to raise the tax, he exclaimed “… It’s not tax, it’s an entrance fee …” which is exactly right.
Now we need more money from fewer people. Take three vehicles, a 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, a 2012 Honda hybrid, and an all-electric 2014 Tesla Model S. They’re all using the same road, but some are not paying, so, the “user fee” concept has left the building.
We have to get creative. The Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) has been working on this issue for years. It’s complicated and sticky, but in order to work this out, we as motorcyclists need to be ready to pay our fair share along with every other road user.
Many proposals have come and gone, but what’s starting to look like a potential solution is rearing its ugly head in Oregon. It’s not Big Foot, and it could be wore: the mileage tax. Oregon has been at the forefront of fuel taxation since 1919 when it was the first to enact a state tax on gas. The federal tax didn’t come around until 1932.
The Oregon Department of Transportation has a fledgling program that is collecting a mileage tax, which is a tax on the number of miles you ride or drive instead of per gallon of fuel. Years ago, something like this was an absurd idea. Everyone hated it. The federal and state DOTs that would be responsible for collecting the data balked at the proposition because “they didn’t want to have to collect more numbers,” and more importantly, the technology was not there. Fast forward to 2014, and the tech is there and everywhere else.
Using any device that’s connected to a cell tower or a satellite, vehicle mileage can be tracked and followed. The Oregon program is taking 5,000 volunteers and taxing them at 1.5 cents per mile via a third party that will collect the taxes for the government in order to alleviate any privacy concerns. It remains to be seen what the results will produce, but the future is here, and avoiding it can only work for so long.
- Jeff Hennie
When riding, don't forget to wear a carbon fiber helmet or a custom painted helmet.
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Gas Tax, Motorcycle, Legislation, Taxes, Highway, Bridges, Fuel Tax, Mileage Tax,