Higher gas taxes do not lead to better roads

By Steve Wilson
September 17, 2019

Having one of the nation’s highest gasoline taxes won’t buy taxpayers the best-rated highway system. 

That is according to an analysis that compared gasoline taxes by state and rankings from the Reason Foundation’s recently released annual Highway Report.

None of the top 10 states scored for highway efficiency and cost effectiveness were among the top 10 in the amount of gasoline tax levied on consumers. The top 10 states averaged 25.25 cents in taxes per gallon, just slightly above 24.85 cent per gallon nationwide average from the American Petroleum Institute.

Mississippi has the third lowest gasoline tax nationally (18.79 cents per gallon) and yet its highway efficiency and cost effectiveness was ranked 25th by Reason. 

Out of the five states with the lowest gasoline taxes, only Alaska (49th overall) and Oklahoma (41st overall) were near the bottom.

Conversely, none of the states with the highest gasoline tax scored higher than Mississippi in the overall score, the best being Illinois at 28th. The Land of Lincoln hits motorists with a 54.98 cent tax on every gallon of gasoline.

California has the nation’s highest gasoline tax at 61.20 cents per gallon, yet it only ranked 43rd overall in the Reason Foundation report. Pennsylvania (35th in the report) has the next highest gasoline tax nationally at 58.7 cents per gallon. 

Missouri was ranked third overall and its gasoline tax (17.42 cents per gallon), yet its rural interstate pavement condition was 17th best and it also scored highly for capital and bridge disbursements per mile (second) despite having the seventh-largest state-controlled highway system nationally.

Mississippi was ranked 25th by the Reason Foundation overall, with its score bolstered by high marks for high maintenance disbursements per mile and low urban congestion. 

The Magnolia State’s ranking was dragged down 14 places from last year’s report because of worsening rural interstate pavement condition and a larger number of structurally deficient bridges.

The legislature hasn’t sat on the sidelines, passing the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2018 in last summer’s special session. The bill will send 35 percent of use tax revenues by next year to cities and counties to assist with infrastructure. 

The bill will additionally authorize $300 million in borrowing, with $250 million for the Mississippi Department of Transportation and $50 million for local infrastructure not administered by MDOT.

The other part of the package was the creation of a lottery, the first $80 million in tax revenue annually going to the state highway fund until 2028 and the rest put into the Education Enhancement Fund. Just the highway fund portion alone could add up to $720 million. 

State gasoline taxes are levied in addition to the federal tax of 18.4 cents, which hasn’t been increasedsince 1993.


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