Oregon was First in the Nation with a Gas Tax in 1919

This week 92 years ago the state of Oregon set the U.S. motorist on a slippery slope with the implementation of the first-in-the-nation gas tax.
Advertisement


Oregon's first-in-the-nation gas tax, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was a whopping 1 cent a gallon, which was enacted with the purpose of building and maintaining the state's roads and highways. That's the reason most gas tax revenues are still used for.

Gas in 1919 averaged about 25 cents a gallon or the equivalent of about $2.84, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. It would take until 2008 before the equivalent price was reached in current dollars. Gas would actually drop in ensuing years from 1919 down to a low of 17 cents per gallon and not rise above 25 cents a gallon until 1948 when it hit the whopping price of 26 cents.

Curious what the equivalent of a penny would be in current cents? It's 13 cents but gas taxes in most states have surpassed that. Taxes at the pump range from a low of 7-1/2 cents a gallon in Georgia to 37-1/2 cents in Washington.

Today, government at all levels spends $182 billion a year to build, maintain and administer highways across the nation. Yet, that may not be enough to keep up with rise infrastructure costs. Road maintenance is an area that governments typically skimp on during tough economic times.

Plus, there's the problem gas taxes being a flat number instead of a percentage as one would find with sales and income taxes. Fortunately, governments haven't developed the necessary fortitude to enact a percentage gas tax yet.

So, the next time you curse prices at the pump, aim your one-finger salute west (or north if you're in California or south if you're in Washington) towards Oregon where the gas tax started back in 1919.


Sign-up to our email newsletter for daily perspectives on car design, trends, events and news, not found elsewhere.