Friday, June 28, 2013

Increase in PA gasoline tax coming?

Pennsylvania is on the verge of adding 28 cents per gallon to the gas tax.  

This is part of the transportation bill legislation.  As someone in the Susquehanna Valley, this bill also contains a provision to build the new Susquehanna Valley bypass - a project that would alleviate some terrible congestion on a stretch of highway in this area.  This is good.  However, it contains a higher gasoline tax.

Using a higher gasoline tax to fund the bypass is interesting.  My overall thoughts:

1. In general, our tax rates our too high, and I don't want more taxes.  There is plenty of government waste that should be cut first before resorting to tax increases.

2. The Bypass is desperately needed.  The congestion it would relieve would be like a tax cut - especially for the thousands of people who take the route from Washington/Baltimore/Harrisburg to mid-NY state on weekends.  The decrease in time spent waiting in traffic has a huge value to society.  This is the type of project that should have been in the original US stimulus package, as it would provide employment for many while providing a useful product for society.  (But Obama was too busy funding failing "green" companies that produced nothing and are now out-of-business.)

3.  Gas taxes have pros and cons.  The pro is a higher gas tax could account for the negative externalities of pollution.  If you have to implement taxes to raise revenue, why not tax pollution?  Economists on the right who like the idea of a gas tax (e.g., Greg Mankiw) would want some other tax cut simultaneously.  The negatives are it is a) it's a tax, and taxes are already too high, b) It is a regressive tax.  It hurts working class and middle class families more than rich families, as they'll pay a higher percentage of their income in this tax.  Higher prices for gas also have devastating consequences for the rest of the economy.

Overall, based on the positives and negatives, I'm pretty indifferent over whether this bill should be passed if there are no changes.  The ideal outcome is the bypass is built without a gas tax (i.e., other spending is cut), but I doubt that will happen, unfortunately.

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