Seventy-one percent of U.S. residents would support a 10-cent increase in the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax that is used to pay for federal transportation projects, according to a new poll released this week.
The survey, conducted by the San Jose, Calif.-based Mineta Transportation Institute, comes as lawmakers are facing an Oct. 29 deadline for renewing federal infrastructure spending that has been the subject of debate in Washington for most of the year.
Support for increasing the gas tax to 28 cents-per-gallon drops to 31 percent if the money is used to "maintain and improve the transportation system" instead of "improve road maintenance," according to the group.
The gas tax has been used to pay for road and transit projects since the 1930s, but the levy has not been increased since 1993. Transportation advocates have been suggesting the idea of increasing the gas tax for the first time in more than decades to make up the difference.
The gas tax, which pre-dates the development of the Interstate Highway System by nearly two decades, has been the primary funding source for federal transportation projects since its creation in the 1930s.
Receipts from the gas tax have been outpaced by transportation expenses by about $16 billion annually in recent years as construction costs have risen and cars have become more fuel efficient.
The current level of federal spending on transportation is about $50 billion per year, but the gas tax only brings in about $34 billion annually at its current rate.
Transportation advocates have argued that increasing the gas tax would be the easiest way to close the gap. Lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump, however, viewing a gas tax increase as politically toxic.
Congress has instead turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the gap in lieu of asking drivers to pay more at the pump. However, critics say the temporary bandages are contributing to a weakened national infrastructure.
Congress had a chance to pass a multi-year transportation funding package earlier this year, but lawmakers could not agree on a way to pay for more than a couple of months’ worth of projects, resulting in a temporary extension that lasts only until Oct. 29.
The approximately $8 billion patch that was passed in July, which reauthorized the collection of the gas tax but did not increase it, was intended only to prevent a bankruptcy in the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund.
The trust fund had been scheduled to run out of money this month without congressional action.
A proposal to tax drivers based on how many miles they travel instead of how many gallons they buy, which is currently being tested in Oregon, was far less popular than increasing the gas tax, drawing only 24 percent support, according to the group.
The full results of the study can be read here.