Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Advocacy, the Gas Tax & Depression

I’ve been a little lax with updates recently. Part of it’s been being busy. Part of it is being depressed a little about the state of things.

I’ve discussed the current situation with the Transportation Bill previously. In an issue that is at once completely separate but entirely interlinked with the Transportation Bill, the federal gas tax is up for renewal at the end of September. The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon of gas (24.4 cents for diesel). The tax has never been indexed to inflation and has not increased since 1994. Most economists feel that the gas tax is way too low, and as you consider its alleged role in funding infrastructure, the crumbling state of our roads and bridges suggests economists to have a pretty good point even if you think math is hard. Heck, some states are trying to tax electric and hybrid vehicles to make up for ‘lost’ gas taxes based on vehicle efficiency.

Without reapproval of the gas tax, 75% of those taxes would be uncollectable. And that’s what a number of people want, including Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform. Many anti-tax folk are saying that the gas tax, and any highway/bridge/road funding to come from it, should be solely controlled at the state level.

This is, of course, ridiculous. Many states are also extremely anti-tax. There’s some extent to which interstate commerce relies some on centralized planning and funding — and not on pissing battles between neighboring states “ruled” by different parties.

With both the current state of the transportation bill, and this, many transportation advocates are claiming it’s an advocacy battle. We all must write our congressional delegation! We must get involved!

Which is fine. It’s what you’re supposed to say. But advocacy requires people who are willing to compromise and change their minds. Precedent suggests that the people who’ve signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge aren’t going to budge. Writing my congressperson is a complete and abject joke, especially where it involves taxes.

I suppose I’m more of a mope about it all thanks to the deadlock in Minnesota and the Minnesota shutdown, which apparently achieved jack+squat for either side. And that’s what I see happening federally. I suspect the federal gas tax will get renewed, at present rates or a possible cut (which is its own disaster, if you consider the reduced funding levels already looming in transportation). But it’s not going to be based on advocacy. It’s going to either be based on reality biting in the ass via another bridge going ka-pow or some rarely seen but much needed pragmatism from Congress. Me writing my congressperson (who will be anti-renewal, when not running for president) will do nothing. My senators will be pro-renewal, and any letter I write will just go into the “validation” file, and won’t make an impact. And everyone else knows I can’t vote for them.

In summary: I’m going to go continue to put my younger child in the bike trailer and get her rolling, because it’s something I can do, effectively.

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.


  1. I am similarly terrified by nearly all elected officials unwillingness to compromise. It means bad things ahead for transportation, especially biking/walking. And this is true no mater what level of gov’ment we’re talking about.

    The idea of funding transportation at a state rather than federal level is a valid proposal to consider. As I work on transportation projects across the state, I often run into situations where projects become MUCH more difficult to develop and administer (as well as more expensive) because there is federal money involved that comes with substantial strings attached. I’d love to see less funding from the federal government and more funding from the state.

  2. I would say the issue with state-level funding is similar (many, many anti-tax states who would be unwilling to fund, who have balanced budget requirements). Plus, it’s ridiculous with the way the commodity economy works to claim that you and I don’t have interest in road and transport projects in other states. I think it would also make funding on long-term projects a lot more volatile, depending on statehouse control.

    Streetsblog has been writing about it non-stop: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/08/15/sure-leave-gas-tax-collection-to-liberal-tax-and-spend-states-like-georgia/