Almost all lawmakers who supported legislation to raise their state’s gasoline tax last year won their primaries in 2016, according to an analysis from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).
But raising the federal gas tax, which hasn't been done in two decades, is still seen as politically unpopular.
Iowa, South Dakota, Utah, Idaho, Georgia, Nebraska, Washington, and Michigan all passed a fuel tax increase or something similar in 2015. Ninety-eight percent of the lawmakers who backed those increases and were up for re-election came out victorious in primary races this year, according to ARTBA’s Transportation Investment Advocacy Center.
Six of those states had a Republican governor and GOP-led legislature when the legislation was approved.
“These results should dispel any notion that voting to increase the state gas tax is politically toxic,” said Alison Premo Black, ARTBA’s chief economist who conducted the research.
“Voters expect lawmakers to put forward solutions to help reduce traffic congestion, improve road safety and help grow the economy. They are also willing to pay for these expanded investments.”
In the eight states that passed a fuel tax increase last year, a total of 125 Democratic legislators who supported the legislation were up for re-election, and 122 of them succeeded in their primary races.
Meanwhile, a total of 293 GOP state legislators who backed legislation to increase state gas taxes ran for re-election, and 287 won their primary seat.
While a growing number of states — including red states — are opting to raise their own fuel taxes, the federal gasoline tax hasn’t been touched in over 20 years. The federal tax finances the Highway Trust Fund, which provides money for road construction and other surface transportation projects across the country.
The new findings from ARTBA are unlikely to inspire confidence at the federal level. Members of Congress have struggled to come up with long-term funding solutions for the fund, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been generally eager to avoid a vote on increasing the gasoline tax.
A national gas tax hike is likely a tougher sell than state fuel tax increases, even with low gas prices. Taxpayers at the local level may have an easier time envisioning where their state or city tax increase is going when they can physically see a bridge or highway being built.
Opponents of raising the fuel tax say that as the nation becomes less reliant on gasoline and vehicles become more fuel efficient, Congress is going to have to come up with more sustainable funding sources.
Several states are testing out pilot programs that use a vehicle miles traveled tax to supplement infrastructure funding in the state.