This USA Today chart shows how Americans are paying less taxes on gas now than at any point since 1993. That's the last time the gas tax was raised, to 18.4 cents per gallon -- and that's where it's stayed ever since. By inflation-adjusted dollars, that makes the current gas taxes the lowest Americans have been paying since 1975
Of course, since then cars have grown more efficient, which is certainly a good thing. But now, the average driver pays just $19 for every 1,000 miles driven. And since we now know much more now about the dangers of relying on oil and fossil fuels, it seems that it's an especially apt time to raise that gas tax to a more reasonable level. There are a good many reasons why we should do this, and not all of them are even green-related. For instance, the current amount raised by the gas tax is hardly enough to cover the necessary highway upkeep costs. Here's some of the USA Today analysis:
Although the federal gas tax -- 18.4 cents per gallon -- hasn't changed since 1993, tax collections are down because today's vehicles go farther on a gallon of gas, cutting tax collections while increasing wear and tear on highways. Inflation since 1993 has eroded the value of the tax to maintain roads.There's also that big ol' deficit that everyone whines about but that nobody really wants to do anything to seriously address.
But then of course, there are the reasons that we should have been taxing gas (and other fossil fuels) more all along, due to the vast negative externalities they produce. Someone has to pay to cope with the ill health effects of air pollution and the coming impacts of climate change, and it makes sense for those costs to be shared by those who consume oil (as well as those who produce it).
Increasing the gas tax would have the added benefit of discouraging gas consumption and encouraging the development and purchase of more and more efficient vehicles. And it would, of course, reduce carbon emissions. Finally, it's worth remembering that almost all other industrialized nations have much, much higher gas taxes than we do -- and for good reason.
And if there ever was a time to pass a higher gas tax -- which conventional wisdom labels political suicide -- now would be it, with the biggest environmental disaster in US history continuing to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico, and having been caused by that reliance on oil.