Gasoline Taxes: An Examination of News Media Discourse Related to Gas Tax Funding Debates in Six States

Principal Investigator: Dr. Richard A. Watts
Funding Agency: US DOT

Project Summary

This project investigates the discourse around gasoline taxes in six U.S. states to contribute understanding to sustainable transportation funding policy. Gasoline taxes have provided direct funding to the transportation system since they were first instituted in 1932. Today the average state gasoline tax is 23.8 cents per gallon and 18.4 cents at the Federal level (ARTBA). Despite several attempts at the federal level, policy-makers have been unable to increase gasoline taxes for 17 years. As a result the purchasing power has steadily eroded and the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is expected to be bankrupt (AASHTO).

One solution to the funding shortfall is to increase gas taxes and use the money to fund transportation infrastructure. However this has proven to be extremely difficult. Gas taxes at the national level have been increased four times in the last 50 years: in 1956 to build the interstate highway system, in 1981 and twice during the Clinton years in 1991 and 1993. Why is it that the U.S. has lower gasoline prices than most of its peer group of 23 industrial nations? Why has it been so difficult at the state and federal level to raise gas taxes? Why has an outcome of federal and state energy policy been to maintain lower gasoline prices at low levels?

In this Phase 1 study we examine the media discourse around gas tax hikes in six states: Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Idaho and Oregon.

Technology Transfer