Gasoline prices in America have spiked in recent weeks to near-record highs. AAA reports that the average price of regular unleaded gasoline now costs $4.25. That is a historic heigh according to AAA even if one adjusts for the diminished value of the dollar. Adjusting for inflation, gasoline prices have been at $4.27 per gallon in 1918 and $3.99 in 2012. Adjusted for inflation, gasoline cost less than half what it does today in 2016. In states that punish commuters with the highest gasoline prices, such as California, prices are well over $5 per gallon and social media is full of images of gas stations with prices approaching $7.
To help those of limited means make ends meet during this unusual spike in gas prices Massachusetts state representative Peter Durant (R. Worcester) has proposed suspending the gas tax until the statewide average returns to $3.70, a price that was the average in the state just days ago. Massachusetts imposes a 24-cent per gallon tax on gasoline purchased in the state.
Similar ideas to suspend the gas tax nationally have been making headlines. Democratic U.S. Senators Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Raphael Warnock (Ga.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), and Jacky Rosen (Nev.) have put forth a proposal to suspend the 18-cent per gallon federal gasoline tax.
Proposals to suspend the federal gas tax have now emerged from both political parties, from politicians in swing states, those that are most definitely blue, and at both the national and federal levels.
The federal and state taxes on gasoline are often linked by tax advocates to the repair and maintenance of roads and bridges. However, the fact is that the funds collected are not used exclusively for road and bridge repair. Some states, such as New York, spend nearly 40% of the funds collected by its state gas tax on things other than road and bridge repair.
Included in the list of odd things the gas taxes fund are tourism, killing aquatic plants, agricultural pest control programs, arts and crafts programs, and mental health programs. Many states direct a large portion of their gasoline taxes to pedestrian and bicycle path development. Nearly all help fund their mass transit programs, which of course, receive funding from multiple other sources as well.
On March 7th, Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg suggested that electric vehicles are a solution to high gas prices. "We are all in the midst of a turning point. We have the technologies to transition to a zero-emission fleet," Harris said. 'We can address the climate crisis and grow our economy at the same time." But are EVs a solution for most Americans today? Tesla's least expensive crossover has a price over $60K and deliveries are back-ordered until December. GM, Toyota, and many other brands don't have any affordable battery-electric vehicles on sale in America today.
Buttigieg added, "Transit gets riders where they need to be efficiently and affordably with far less pollution to thrive. And it's even good for drivers of cars because it means less congestion and traffic on our roads. And transit is even better when it's clean transit with modern electric buses that don't pollute at all." Secretary Buttigieg makes a great point, but almost all of Amtrak's miles are covered by diesel-powered engines. Electric buses are great but extremely rare. There were more electric buses operating in greater Boston 50 years ago than there are today.
A professor at Boston University made headlines this week by predicting that the spike in gasoline prices will continue to reach new heights.
Would you support a temporary suspension of state or federal gasoline taxes during a pandemic and war, or do you feel that critical programs like aquatic plant eradication and artisan community centers are priorities that should never be funded by other means? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
Image of Solar City vehicle gassing up by John Goreham.
John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American news outlets and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @ToknCars, on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin
Re-Publication. If you wish to re-use this content, please contact Torque News for terms and conditions.