A majority of voters would support a 10-cent increase in the federal gas tax if the money is used for specific transportation improvements, according to a new poll released on Wednesday.
The poll, which was conducted by the San Jose, Calif. Mineta Transportation Institute, found that 71 percent of voters would be willing to pay a dime more than the current 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax if the money is spent on “projects to maintain streets, roads, and highways.”
Another 64 percent would support a 10-cent gas tax hike if the money is spent on “projects to reduce accidents and improve safety,” while 59 percent said they would approve of the increase if it was used to pay for “projects to add modern, technological systems.”
The director of the study said the findings show voters are willing to support a gas tax increase if they can be assured the money will be used to pay for transportation projects.
“Conventional wisdom says that Americans strongly oppose any increase in the federal gas tax,” Dr. Asha Weinstein Agrawal said in a statement. “However, this survey shows that significant majorities want the government to provide better transportation infrastructure, are willing to pay for improvements, and want gas tax revenue spent on public transportation as well as on roads and highways.”
The findings come as lawmakers are struggling to come up with a way to pay for an extension of a transportation funding bill that is currently scheduled to expire on May 31.
Transportation advocates have pushed for the gas tax to be increased or indexed to inflation to pay for the extension, but lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more to help pay for infrastructure projects.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on Tuesday that a gas tax hike is dead on arrival in Congress, even as lawmakers are scrambling to come up with a way to pay for the transportation measure.
“I think passing a gas tax is politically impossible,” he said, pointing out that he just paid $3.20 a gallon to fill up his car in his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif.
The gas tax has been the traditional source of transportation funding since its inception in the 1930s. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and improvements in auto fuel efficiency have sapped its purchasing power.
The federal government typical spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually at its current rate.
Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the $16 billion per year gap, but transportation advocates have said the resulting temporary funding measures are preventing states from completing large construction projects.
The full poll results can be read here.