With 2019 being an election year, many political topics are being discussed. Among them include the need to raise the gas tax to fund the nation’s highway needs. Although raising taxes may not always solicit a positive reaction from taxpayers, neither does driving on the deteriorating roads found throughout the country. The current gas tax has not been raised since 1993; thus, not keeping up with inflation and leaving some highways in pretty bad shape without funding to repair them.
The current tax rate is 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline and should be around 31 cents per gallon to have kept up with inflation. The lack of increase in the tax rate has caused many concerns for the future of the Highway Trust Fund, which is the primary source of funding for federal highways and mass transit. Congress has sustained the Highway Trust Fund by transferring billions of dollars of general revenues to the fund, but it is expected to experience shortfalls again by 2021. Some states have created their own plans to address the deficit.
In Mississippi, the current MDOT commissioner, Dick Hall, and the current Northern District transportation commissioner, Mike Tagert, both announced they will not be seeking re-election this year. Hall has been a fierce advocate for increasing the gas tax to fund highway repairs the state so desperately needs. According to a 2017 report by TRIP, a national transportation research group, driving on the failing Mississippi roads costs motorists a total of $2.9 billion annually in additional vehicle operating costs with drivers in the state capitol of Jackson incurring around $2,046 each year in additional costs. The study also found nearly 2 of every 3 miles of Mississippi’s major urban roads are in either poor or mediocre condition. Last year, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, from Mississippi, also participated in a Committee on Environment and Public Works to address the ongoing concern.
In August of 2018, Governor Phil Bryant signed a bill into law that would allow a state lottery to be created in Mississippi during a special session to address the state’s infrastructure crisis. Once the lottery goes into effect, the proceeds will be directed at repairing the state’s roads and bridges. Gas stations in Mississippi could start selling lottery tickets by the end of the year. Early projections estimate the state could net about $40 million the first year, then $80 million - $100 million annually, and would provide more opportunities for road and highway contractors throughout the state.
Other states have addressed the infrastructure funding issue in other ways. Florida uses toll roads to generate highway funds, Oregon has implemented a mileage-based program where drivers contribute 1.5 cents for every mile driven and Virginia encourages drivers to carpool through their congestion pricing program where single passenger vehicles pay a toll during rush hour, while carpoolers use the road at no charge. Regardless of how the funding is generated, a long-term solution needs to be generated soon.