Do Amercians Support a Gas Tax?


Here’s something that is a bit of a surprise: While most Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to a higher federal gasoline tax, their views change if the tax were to be earmarked for specific ends: 

"A significant number would go along with an increase if it reduced global warming or made the United States less dependent on foreign oil, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The nationwide telephone poll, conducted Wednesday through Sunday, suggested that a gasoline tax increase that brought measurable results would be acceptable to a majority of Americans.

Neither the Bush administration nor Democratic Party leaders make that distinction. Both are opposed to increasing the gasoline tax as a means of discouraging consumption, although President Bush, in recent speeches, has called for the development of alternative energy to reduce dependence on foreign oil."

This is more than a classic example of how a question is phrased that generates a different answer; This is a polling question addressing a specifically different issue beyond the gas tax question. It is in part a referendum question on faith in Congress on spending and priorities.


Click for larger graphic   


Courtesy of NYT

No suprise that the Dismal set disagree:

"Many mainstream economists believe that a shift that raises the gasoline tax while lowering income-based taxes is the most efficient way to reduce consumption. It might require a $1-a-gallon increase in the tax phased in over five years, said Severin Borenstein, director of an energy institute at the University of California, Berkeley."


Americans Are Cautiously Open to Gas Tax Rise, Poll Shows
NYT, February 28, 2006

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  1. commented on Feb 28

    Do Americans Support a Gas Tax?

    Barry Ritholtz:”A significant number would go along with an increase if it reduced global warming or made the United States less dependent on foreign oil, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The nationwide telephone poll, conducted We…

  2. B commented on Feb 28

    Never, ever, ever under any circumstances would I support a gas tax. I wouldn’t put another dime in the tax coffers. The Department of Energy, an oxymoron extraordinaire, was created in the 70s to solve this exact problem. 30 years later, what has the DOE done to wean us off of foreign energy sources? I’d like to knwo how much the DOE’s budget is. And how many nuclear power plants we could have today if the money was spent on such as an example. I support dissolving the DOE. We did fine without it for nearly 200 years.

    I would support a market based incentive system which would enhance private industry development into energy efficiency and job creation in that segment. I would also support a fast track system which removes the approval bureaucracy of nuclear power plants which have new technology to reduce waste and half life significantly and have much improved safety controls. And I support a mandate to increase auto CAFE standards at least 50%. Which would still be 33% lower than Japan, Europe and soon to be China.

  3. Chad K commented on Feb 28

    How about a gas tax… where the entire revenue stream generated is required to be given in grants for research on how to get rid of the problem… (and eventually the tax).

    The recent energy bill that went through had some very nice tax credits in it (per gallon) on bio fuels and renewed fuels… through things like thermal depolymerization. Fortunately for the one thermal depolymerization plant in the country, this tax credit makes it profitable to create oil (from feedstock, human waste or recycled plastic).

    Unfortunately…. we’ve got NIMBY governors shutting down brilliant ideas…

  4. M1EK commented on Feb 28

    “I would support a market based incentive system”

    which is exactly what a gas tax would be, but it wouldn’t care which technology won, which means it’d be even more efficient than merely subsidizing alternative energy research.

  5. GRL commented on Feb 28

    Some utopian thinking:
    How about earmarking the proceeds of the gas tax to pay for the war in Iraq and the deployment of U.S. troops throughout the middle east?
    Make it an oil-based energy tax, and make it high enough so the war costs do not add to the overall deficit.
    The argument for it would be that the cost of the war is an “externality” to the price of energy, which, right now is not covered by the market price.
    Then, if a politician wants to be popular, he or she can kill two birds with one stone: end the unpopular war in Iraq, and end the gas tax.
    On the other hand, if a politician wants to engage in grandiose empire-building schemes overseas, then he or she has to raise the gas tax to pay for it.

  6. jim commented on Feb 28

    The governor of Montana said on 60 Minutes Sunday that they could profitably liqueify coal for about $1.00 per gallon. With taxes and transportation retail should be less than $2.00.

  7. B commented on Feb 28

    I guess it the answer all depends on whether you trust the Federal government to dole out those dollars efficiently. I just don’t see alot of precedence there. Taxes are a regressive solution where market based incentives are a progressive solution. We’ve got enough regressive policies. One reason why the average joe is feeling like he’s been kicked in the gut. If the DOE had 30 years to achieve its mission statement and has literally accomplished absolutely nothing, is there any reason to think it will be better this time? Anyone? Anyone?

    I don’t think energy research subsidies is such a great idea either. 40% of the world’s research dollars and 35% of all researchers are in the US. We have research coming out of our ears. There are no shortage of great research ideas and even current capabilities in energy. Ones that could be commercialized right now.

    We need to monetize our research and intellectual assets in the energy space. We don’t need to fund mroe research IMO. That means market based policies to actually do something. Putting the Federales in charge of that is a joke. Maybe FEMA could run the project.

  8. David Silb commented on Feb 28

    I live in Miami and we have such a gas tax. Now its early to pass judgement on whether our road infrastructure is benefitting, I will say this. Our roads all over town are under major construction. Construction roadwork is everywhere.

    Of course they told us it was only to due a few projects.

    And that is what they said about the toll booths they put up to build some other roads. and those were in the 60’s and 70’s and we still pay to ride on those roads. The roads are paid for but now the funds are diverted to maintainence and other projects.

    Taxes like a gas tax and other small taxes have a tendacy to stay around longer then their intended purpose.

    Unfortunately what choices do we have to build new roads or upgrade infrastructure?

    My suggestion to those who don’t like paying gas taxes:

    1. Drive less
    2. Buy a more fuel efficient car. Or motorcycle (you know you want one anyway, now here’s your chance to rationalize the purchase.)

  9. M1EK commented on Feb 28

    Gas taxes aren’t regressive from lower to middle incomes. Don’t buy the suburban Republican hype on this.

  10. Fred commented on Feb 28

    If taxes are the answer you asked some statist politrician the question.

  11. Barry commented on Feb 28

    Hey David,
    Where do you live in Miami? I used to have a condo off of Alhambra in Coral Gables. Before that, my girlfriend rented a house on Key Biscayne. Talk about the high life. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. There was a little Cuban carryout on KB right after you pass Crandon Park. A true dive that only the locals visit. One wouldn’t even see it because I don’t think there is even a sign. The best Cuban food I’ve ever had and I’ve had alot. It was called Oasis. The best plantains, croquettes, chicken with saffron rice, Cuban coffee, flan and on and on. Only problem is it is a carry out. Ever been there?

    I go back to Miami whenever I can. Last time I stayed at the Eden Roc. I’m a 60s baby so I am not old enough..but did you ever see the Rat Pack at the Eden Roc in its glory days?

    I love Miami. A year ago when I was down there, I was absolutely shocked how much construction was going on. First thing I thought was how incredible the city is becoming. The second thing I thought was that there were going to be some great real estate deals because they were overbuilding. Although I will say a weak dollar and the international flair of Miami might keep enough foreign money in the condo markets to keep it from being a disaster.

  12. B commented on Feb 28

    Oops, I didn’t mean to post that under the ID of Barry because I don’t want to confuse people with “The Barry”.

  13. niblettes commented on Feb 28

    The survey suggests that with taxes, as with most things related to money, most people don’t mind spending more as long as they get more value in return.

    Pouring more tax dollars mindlessly into D.C. offers no value.

    Weening ourselves off of oil, cutting our financial contributions to the House of Saud, and reducing the ecological damaged caused by our use of fossil fuels, however, appears to be the kind of value that most Americans want from their tax dollars.

    Sounds rather mature to me.

  14. David Silb commented on Feb 28


    Hey thanks for the shout out and yes to all your questions. I’ve actually eaten at that little dive on Key Biscayne. Good Stuff.

    I do suggest write me an email as this really isn’t the forum getting to know you/reminiscing. You may email me anytime.

    As for the construction in Miami I have mentioned it before on this blog. It is oblivious too all that even foreign investment will not be able to sustain the current rate of development. The peculiarity of the area Miami is unable to have a working class in the shadow of so much highend housing.

    People can buy the properties but they may want to have somebody clean the house, or do the drycleaning, or wait the tables.

    Right now we have a low end worker shortage. Many places have signs wanting to hire workers but no takers. Problem wages, employers won’t pay more for workers and workers don’t want to work for prices that won’t cover the cost of living.

  15. MLong commented on Feb 28

    Like most things, the issue becomes muddied with discussion. We need to decide whether we want to actually decrease our dependence on oil. What is the best way to do that without to much pain? Taxes would probably work if done over time. The consumer would finally start taking up & demanding the new technology when the cost/benefit makes it worthwhile. Everything else would be driven by that. It may be there is a better method to achieve the same result.
    Whether the tax would be spent appropriately is another issue, we know it probably wouldn’t. I haven’t seen the numbers, but my understanding is that Florida’s promise to spend Lotto money on education is being fulfilled. However, much of the money is supposedly substituted for what was previously budgeted for the school, a wash.

  16. Rick DeMent commented on Mar 1

    How about ending all subsidies to oil companies as an opening salvo we could all get behind. It waould have the same basic effect of a gas tax and reduce spending.

  17. Austin Guy commented on Oct 20

    I understand some people are against a gas tax but at the same time gas prices are going to increase as we run out of gas. So basically gas prices are going to go up either way. A gas tax could produce a more gradual increase in gas prices than a sudden spike. A sudden spike could have a more negative effect on the economy. If the gas prices increased slowly their would be more private research into alternative energy sources. If prices increase suddenly and we dont have a viable alternative available there will be serious economic problems.

  18. Eric Puravs commented on Jul 10

    After the Live Earth concert (7/7/7) I thought “The war in Iraq has been said to cost $12 billion per month, or $400 million per day. US gasoline consumption is also about 400 million gallons per day. So why not fund the war with and additional $1.00 per gallon gas tax?” Me, I wrote my Congresspeople proposing they increase the income tax to pay for the $100 billion they approved. But they didn’t do it. Increasing the gas tax may be more Republican, it wouldn’t be so directed at the rich. Now with Google I see the gas tax idea has been out there a year already.

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