| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO Feb 8 U.S. states where gasoline
taxes have not risen in decades are now discussing an increase
and conditions might be ripe for the proposed hikes to win
approval in state legislatures, tax experts said this week.
Low gas prices, a desperate need for revenue to fix
crumbling roads, and a post-election period that gives
politicians the space to tackle controversial issues have
breathed life into efforts to raise the taxes, said Carl Davis,
research director at the non-partisan Washington D.C.-based
Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
In all, 21 state legislatures will consider bills aimed at
increasing gas taxes this year, Davis said.
"Some states that have gone 10 or 20 or almost 30 years
without a gas tax rate increase, and they've seen the purchasing
power of their taxes decimated by inflation. Those rates need to
be updated," he said. "There are states that have a lot of
catching up to do."
Chief among those are five politically conservative,
traditionally tax-averse states that have not raised their fuel
tax rates since the 1980s or earlier.
Alaska, Oklahoma, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee
- all of which voted for U.S. President Donald Trump in November
- are debating gas tax increases in their state legislatures
"As funds and their purchasing power have been depleted over
the last few decades, states are coming to realize they have to
raise revenues to maintain the transportation assets they have,"
Kevin Pula, a policy specialist at the National Conference of
State Legislatures, told Reuters.
Alaska has not increased its fuels tax in almost 47 years
and has the lowest rate in the nation. But faced with a budget
shortfall, Governor Bill Walker, an independent, has proposed
tripling fuel tax rates this session.
In Oklahoma, low oil and gas prices have created an
estimated $870 million shortfall in the 2018 fiscal year.
Republican Governor Mary Fallin in a speech on Monday proposed
increasing the gasoline and diesel excise taxes by 7 cents and
10 cents, respectively, to 24 cents per gallon each.
"This increase keeps Oklahoma's motor fuel tax rates well
below the national average of over 29 cents per gallon," Fallin
Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee all have gas tax
measures in their state legislatures.
Momentum for gasoline tax increases began in 2012. Since
then, 19 states have raised their gas taxes including
liberal-leaning blue states Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont and
New Jersey. Deep red Wyoming raised its gas tax in 2013, as did
fellow conservative states Idaho and Nebraska in 2015.
Even if the states do not pass their gas tax increases this
year, they could still eventually become law.
"It's very unusual at the state level to see a measure
proposed and then immediately enacted," said Joung Lee, an
associate director at the American Association of State Highway
and Transportation Officials.
"It usually takes several bites at the apple," he said.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Daniel Bases and Leslie