Low unemployment, low inflation, low oil prices, crumbling infrastructure, and a huge increase in the federal deficit following last year’s tax law: these conditions call for increasing the federal tax on gasoline. Proceeds could replenish the Highway Trust Fund, funding improvements to both roads and mass transit.
The challenge is to design taxes that don’t fall on those unable to pay, such as low-wage rural dwellers, for whom commutes are long and public transit scarce. Perhaps some of the tax proceeds could be directed toward roads and bridges that are maintained by local governments, thereby relieving local property taxes. An increase in the fuel tax must also address current and predicted challenges from climate change, by discouraging the consumption of fossil fuels. So the impact of taxes on drivers must be buffered, but eventually great enough to change commuting patterns, to encourage car-pooling and mass transit, and to shift to renewably-powered vehicles. Now is the moment, if Congress has the courage to grasp it.